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Published: Wednesday, 8/29/2007

City Council buoyant about pedal-boat rentals on Maumee River


Robert Russ, the enthusiastic Toledoan who lit up his 21-story downtown high-rise for July 4, is embarking on a new venture: pedal boats.

If Mr. Russ is successful, as early as this weekend, pedal boats may be rented in the International Park boat basin next to the Docks.

Mr. Russ said he wants to show what a fun place the downtown can be.

Mr. Russ, 40, a native Toledoan who has returned after a working as a filmmaker in Los Angeles, said he and his partner have bought four pedal boats.

Calling Mr. Russ "Fun Bob" and business partner Andy Howard "Healthy Andy," the two spelled out their plans to Toledo City Council yesterday. The Finkbeiner administration is proposing a three-year license for their business, Think Young LLC.

The subject provided a welcome distraction for council, which has been engrossed in political intrigue.

Councilman Betty Shultz said, "Your remarks have been very welcome to all of us. I think you've made the day for all the people sitting here."

Councilman Mark Sobczak urged the news media to, at least temporarily, ignore council's political shenanigans, and report on Mr. Russ and Mr. Howard.

"Forget about this other stuff. We'll be talking about it in a week's time anyway," Mr. Sobczak predicted. "This is what makes this town great."

Republican Councilman Rob Ludeman, who was unceremoniously removed from his post of council president last week in a 7-4 vote engineered by A-team Democrats, called the proposal "a great idea," but may be secretly planning payback.

He said when Mr. Howard gets six boats, council should have a race with two councilmen in each boat.

Mr. Russ said he grew up a "proud East Sider" and moved to Los Angeles, where he was involved in television and movie production, including for MTV.

After 15 years, he moved back to help out with a family emergency, and now lives in the Riverfront Apartments downtown, overlooking the riverfront.

Lately, he's been meeting with Mayor Carty Finkbeiner's Toledo Pride committee to help his hometown be more successful, he said.

"I came up with about 10 things for visitors to go home and say, 'Toledo's cool,' " he said.

He and Mr. Howard plan to have 30 boats in the water next spring, but they hope to start recouping their investment right away with four boats they now own.

They said they are complying with all safety laws, including registering the boats, equipping them with life preservers and running lights, and having insurance and a rescue boat on hand.

The pedal-powered crafts will be bright yellow and blue, Mr. Russ said. The boats won't be allowed out into the shipping channel.

On July 4, Mr. Russ placed red, white, and blue strobe lights in about 25 of his apartment building's windows to make it look as though a fireworks show was going off inside the 21-story building.

He said his goal is to shake Toledoans' negative self-image and help them see Toledo the way he does: as a "cool, fun city."

Contact Tom Troy at: tomtroy@theblade.com or 419-724-6058.

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