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Toledo City Council seeks review of development plan

Toledo City Council offered mostly cheery-eyed praise yesterday for officials from the California-based company looking to transform Swan Creek downtown into a $300 million mixed-use riverwalk development.

At the same time, some councilmen said the proposed agreement to sell city-owned land to Tetra Tech Inc. of Pasadena, Calif., needed more review.

Council likely will vote next week on an agreement negotiated by Mayor Carty Finkbeiner's administration to sell to the company 25 parcels of property, including the Erie Street Market, for $4.2 million.

Under the purchase agreement, the sale would not occur until after a "feasibility period," which could last up to 18 months.

Jeff Fleischman, a senior asset strategist for Tetra Tech, said the company would use that time to determine the level of environmental pollution, if any, at the properties.

"We don't have the answers right now," Mr. Fleischman said. "Historically, there has been a lot of industrial use on those properties."

The agreement requires only a $5,000 "deposit" and lets the company pull out of the deal for up to a year.

Councilman D. Michael Collins suggested the company offer $500,000 in "earnest money," if the feasibility period reaches the one-year mark and is extended another six months - which would be the buyer's right under the agreement.

"That money could cover our expenses at the Erie Street Market, and it wouldn't cost the company anything because it could be taken off the purchase price," Mr. Collins said.

Mr. Fleischman said he could not comment on the suggestion.

Jennifer Johnson, a Finkbeiner administration attorney and manager of real estate for the city, said council should not connect the Tetra Tech deal with a separate ordinance that is before it to continue operating the market for the remainder of 2008.

That ordinance would authorize the city to continue taking in revenue and using it to pay bills.

Andy Ferrara, a city economic development specialist, said the market pulled in about $31,000 in profit during the first quarter of 2008.

Ms. Johnson said if council elected to "mothball" the market, the city would violate lease agreements and be required to pay $10,000 plus relocation costs to each of the vendors located at the market.

"You name it, we would have to pay it," she said. "They wouldn't have to pay one penny out of pocket for relocating."

Councilman Frank Szollosi said he was optimistic about the Tetra Tech project but was not going to allow it to be run through council with a "rubber stamp."

He called for an independent attorney to review the real estate transaction before council votes.

The deal includes $1.8 million for the city's water-distribution building at 401 South Erie St. and $1.2 million for the Erie Street Market.

Councilman Lindsay Webb said she hoped the company would follow through on its plans to develop the land along the waterway. "Please don't break our hearts," she told the company officials.

The development is to include a pedestrian-friendly walkway, office space, homes, shops, and a waterfront promenade along both sides of the creek from I-75 to the Maumee River.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.

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