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City of Toledo goes to court over stalled steam plant

City-of-Toledo-goes-to-court-over-stalled-steam-plant

Relations have soured between Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, left, and Toledo Steam Plant developers David Ball, center, and Jim Jackson, shown at a press conference in August that focused on the status of converting the vacant riverfront building into upscale residences.

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Mayor Carty Finkbeiner says he's not going to accept any more excuses from Toledo Steam Plant developers David Ball and Jim Jackson.

Mr. Ball says he's fed up with the mayor's pressure on the complicated renovation project and is ready to hand it back to the city.

Now, the dispute over the glacial pace of converting the vacant industrial structure into a swanky riverfront residential address has moved to Lucas County Common Pleas Court.

The city's law department filed suit Tuesday demanding that Mr. Ball and Mr. Jackson's firm, Water Street Station Development LLC, start work immediately or return the deed to the city.

"If Mr. Ball and Mr. Jackson can't do it, it is time for the city to find a developer who shares the city's vision and time frame for completion of the project," a prepared statement from the mayor's office said yesterday.

Mr. Ball yesterday said the $20 million project is going to cost $1.5 million more than estimated because of a weakened wall. He's requested more time to apply for a new state historic tax credit when the application window opens July 1.

He said his architect, Jon Sandvick of Cleveland, helped write the legislation and he's confident the steam plant will qualify. He said the alternative is to raise the price of each unit by $10,000, but the city's sluggish real estate market wouldn't justify it.

"Tell the mayor he's won. If the mayor wants someone else to do this deal, then fine. I can't have him or Andy Ferrara [city real estate manager] every day beating the hell out of me," Mr. Ball said.

Mr. Ferrara is the mayor's staff liaison on the Water Street Station project.

Mr. Ferrara said that, "for whatever reason, [Mr. Ball] has refused to start. He has given excuses. He was supposed to have started 12 months ago."

Last month, the mayor's office notified the developers that they were in default of a May 23, 2005, development agreement that required the project to be ready for occupancy by June 1, 2006.

The 1895 steam plant building is on the city's riverfront at the foot of Madison Avenue.

The project calls for 71 apartments to be developed in the existing building and 32 condominiums to be developed in a new addition proposed for the river side of the existing building. Between the two buildings would be an atrium.

Mr. Jackson was not available for comment yesterday.

Mr. Ball said that if the city retakes the property, the city would have to reimburse them for their expenses, which he said are $250,000 or more.

The city has spent about $284,000 under its agreement with Mr. Ball and Mr. Jackson, which was approved by City Council at the urging of then-Mayor Jack Ford in April, 2005.

Mark Sobczak, chairman of council's economic development committee, said he agrees with the mayor that the developers must set a higher priority for the project or stand aside.

"I have faith in Jim and Dave. I think we've been patient and now it's time for them to produce," Mr. Sobczak said.

Mr. Sobczak said he does not know of any other developers interested in the project.

"We will never know until we make something happen with the people that are currently on the project," Mr. Sobczak said.

Councilman Frank Szollosi, vice chairman of the economic development committee, said the developers are in a sour real estate market with a complicated project. "Dave and Jimmy are the ones investing the lion's share of the dough. They're the professionals here. We ought to work with them as opposed to put up roadblocks," he said.

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.

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