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Published: Thursday, 1/3/2008

Erie Street Market debate postponed

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADEC STAFF WRITER
Some stalls remain empty at Erie Street Market, and the problem is prompting debate over the financial management of the city-owned and operated downtown operation. A proposed ordinance would help keep the market afloat, but some members of City Council are voicing concern over funding. Some stalls remain empty at Erie Street Market, and the problem is prompting debate over the financial management of the city-owned and operated downtown operation. A proposed ordinance would help keep the market afloat, but some members of City Council are voicing concern over funding.
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The debate over the fate of the Erie Street Market - and the city of Toledo's degree of involvement in it - got a continuance last night from City Council.

A proposed ordinance needed for management of the city-owned market, which had been scheduled for a vote, instead received just a first reading, and some council members renewed calls for a public hearing on the issue.

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

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

Council President Mark Sobczak last night said the ordinance is needed "on a temporary basis to keep that market going."

However, the proposed ordinance met opposition from councilmen Frank Szollosi and Michael Ashford, who said the city should sell the market.

Three newly sworn-in councilmen - Lindsay Webb, Tom Waniewski, and D. Michael Collins - have said the market should be sold.

Ms. Webb last night said holding a public hearing is essential.

Andy Ferrara, a city economic development specialist, told council last month that no taxpayer dollars are in the ordinance and that the special account would be only for the acceptance of revenue and rents, and paying bills.

Still, Mr. Szollosi said it "sets up the taxpayers to subsidize the Erie Street Market." The city already pays the market's utilities with taxpayer funds. The proposed 2008 city budget allocates $287,370 for electricity and $14,191 for heating.

Last month, Mayor Carty Finkbeiner said CitiFest Inc., which managed the Erie Street Market until October, did not live up to his expectations at that task.

Accounting firm Mira & Kolena, which the Finkbeiner administration hired to analyze CitiFest's finances, found that CitiFest was paid $2,500 a month to manage the market.

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

Ms. Webb said last night a market vendor told her that he and other businessmen are owed between $5,000 and $7,000 for the period of Oct. 26 to Nov. 12. "They had been told by CitiFest that the city is responsible for paying them, and the city is telling them that CitiFest is responsible for paying them," Ms. Webb said.

David Moebius, Mayor Finkbeiner's assistant chief of staff, said the administration would investigate.

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171.



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