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Published: 10/10/2007

Building costs vary for arena downtown Toledo

BY JOE VARDON
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The $85 million figure tossed about as the cost for Toledo's new downtown arena is just that - a figure.

Inside places like the Lucas County commissioners' board room and the SeaGate Centre, where project construction manager Lathrop Co. keeps an office, estimated costs for the project rise as high as $105 million and sink as low as $80 million.

Ideas like making the arena concourses wider, adding space for banquets, and having three loading docks instead of two are driving cost estimates upward. What is keeping the estimate at $80 million is the Lucas County Commissioners' goal to leave general-fund dollars out of the equation.

As the commissioners and the design team move closer toward a final design for the arena, which is scheduled to open in the fall of 2009, those who are pitching ideas for a more expensive building also have to show how they can pay for it.

But the commissioners definitely are listening.

"We're only going to [build an arena] once, so we don't want to look back in 2009 when it opens and have the sense we could've done better," Commissioner Pete Gerken said. "I don't want to get tied down with a specific price and wind up getting shortchanged. We know what our base budget is, so as we go beyond that, the arena has to pay for itself."

The commissioners are banking on a 2 percent bump in the county's hotel-motel tax to generate between $45 million and $50 million and act as the only contribution of taxpayer dollars to the project. The rest of the arena is to be paid through revenue streams created by naming rights, suite sales, and corporate sponsorship.

Members of the arena team who are advocating added amenities met with The Blade yesterday to discuss the design process.

Patrick Zohn, a partner with the Gateway Group, a Cleveland sports-facility consulting firm that was part of the Fifth Third Field project, said the goal is to build an arena that's comfortable for fans and cost-effective to operate.

Toledo Mud Hens general manager Joe Napoli, who will oversee the hockey and arena football teams that will play in the new arena, said added costs for amenities such as an outdoor beer garden, wider seats, and more space in the building's concourse are all items suggested during public meetings and should lead to greater ticket and concession-stand revenue.

Mr. Napoli said he's sold 10 of the 20 suites planned for the building and said negotiations are ongoing for the arena's naming rights, but he declined to provide details.

Mr. Napoli said the arena will host about 50 hockey and football games a year, leaving Philadelphia venue-management firm SMG to book the other 75 concerts, shows, and events it will take to reach Mr. Napoli's goal of 125 dates occupied annually at the arena.

Joe Mazur, a regional vice president for SMG, said the easiest way to do that - and attract top musical performers and entertainers - is to have an arena that makes it easy for the talent to perform in Toledo.

He said having an accessible loading area that trucks can pull in and out of with no trouble, as well as a mechanism to support sophisticated lighting and sound systems, will pay for themselves.

"The amount of shows and concerts that come through Toledo will definitely increase," Mr. Mazur said.

Mr. Zohn said an accurate cost estimate is expected near the end of January, when these decisions will have been made. County officials said a final design for the arena's exterior should be ready next month, and excavation work has begun at the construction site.

In the meantime, other details will be ironed out that will affect the price, including to what extent the arena is constructed with "green" or environmentally friendly materials.

This could include lining the arena's roof with solar panels - which Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak said could add $1 million to $2 million to the cost - or installing a solar-powered scoreboard.

"There are a lot of questions being asked and no determinations have been made," said Ms. Wozniak, who is leading the charge for a "green" arena. "But if solar panels are going to save us $4 million down the road, I'd like to know that."

County Commissioner Ben Konop said the commissioners and the design team were being "generally conscientious" about the potential rising costs for the arena.

"I'm critically evaluating these cost issues," Mr. Konop said. "We have a plan in place with the hotel-motel tax, and it is generating a steady flow of revenue. But I'm only in favor of increasing the price if it can be proven to me that the added expenses can be paid for with added revenues."

Contact Joe Vardon at: jvardon@theblade.com or 419-410-5055.



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