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Published: Wednesday, 12/19/2007

Erie Street Market's future debated

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Erie Street Market in the Warehouse District appears to have many empty stalls yesterday, exactly a week before Christmas. Erie Street Market in the Warehouse District appears to have many empty stalls yesterday, exactly a week before Christmas.
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Mayor Carty Finkbeiner dismissed as grandstanding city councilman Frank Szollosi's remarks yesterday opposing a proposed ordinance needed for management of the city-owned Erie Street Market.

"It got a lot of political showboating by Mr. Szollosi," the mayor said last night.

The Finkbeiner administration is asking for authority to provide for management of the market through 2008, accept an operating budget, and create a new fund that would be used to receive revenue and pay bills.

"There are no taxpayer dollars in this ordinance," said Andy Ferrara, a city economic development specialist. "It is purely the acceptance of revenue, rents, and paying bills."

A budget Mr. Ferrara presented to council yesterday predicted the market would end 2007 with $42,802 in profits and finish 2008 in the black by $306,148.

Judy Sikorski of Rossford checks out an antiques display at the market. 'I think there is going to be a turnaround. They just need to get the food back,' she said. 'We miss the food.' Judy Sikorski of Rossford checks out an antiques display at the market. 'I think there is going to be a turnaround. They just need to get the food back,' she said. 'We miss the food.'
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However, the proposed ordinance was met with opposition from Mr. Szollosi and colleagues Michael Ashford and Ellen Grachek, who said the city should rid itself of the market.

"This sets up the taxpayers to subsidize the Erie Street Market," Mr. Szollosi said. "This is going in the wrong direction. The right direction is listing this nationally and getting an entrepreneur to take it."

Responding last night to the mayor's "showboating" accusation, Mr. Szollosi would only say, "His fixation on the Erie Street Market is just throwing good money after bad."

Ms. Grachek, whose term on council expires Dec. 3, before the vote on the matter Jan. 2, said there has been no public outcry to continue the market.

"The time has come to gracefully exit, if there is such a thing, from the Erie Street Market," she said.

The three councilmen-elect who will be sworn in Jan. 2 - Lindsay Webb, Tom Waniewski, and D. Michael Collins - each said the market should be sold.

Mr. Waniewski said he "would not support anything that prolongs the slow death" of the market.

The ordinance needs seven votes to be approved.

David Moebius, assistant chief of staff for Mayor Finkbeiner, said leaders are discussing a long-term plan for the market. The current legislation, he said, is a short-term measure.

Market Manager Connie Hoffmann yesterday said the complex is profitable and she has bookings for every weekend of 2008 and three during 2009.

The city does pay the market's utilities, Ms. Hoffman said.

"My goal is at the end of 2008, to be able to pick up the utilities," she said.

Earlier this year, the Finkbeiner administration renewed efforts to fill the Erie Street Market with vendors.

The mayor in July helped launch a restaurant, the Chowder House, in space vacated when Pepe's Mexican Restaurant and Cantina closed in 2005.

In June, the Erie Street Market was put on a list of large city real-estate assets to be sold to help avert a looming $10 million deficit in 2008. But the Finkbeiner administration later determined the market could not be sold for three years because of federal funds used for renovations after its 1997 opening.

"I think the Erie Street Market is viable," Mr. Finkbeiner said. "I think it has increased in value and worth over the years from when we first refurbished it."

When asked about calls to sell the property, the mayor said: "If I get a price that I think is a good price, or a good offer for any one of the city properties from The Docks to the garage we'll consider selling, but I am not pushing to get rid of [the market] or any city properties."

Earlier this week, Mr. Finkbeiner said CitiFest Inc. did not live up to expectations of managing the Erie Street Market.

The Finkbeiner administration hired accounting firm Mira & Kolena to analyze CitiFest's finances.

It found that CitiFest was paid $2,500 a month to manage the Erie Street Market.

CitiFest in October asked the city to take back the market after claiming it lost more than $90,000.

Councilman Mark Sobczak supported the administration's request. "I think this legislation is getting caught up in the hysteria that is the Erie Street Market," he said. "It's a city asset that was managed poorly."

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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