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Published: Wednesday, 5/7/2008

Toledo council delays sale of Erie Street Market

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Toledo City Council agreed yesterday to keep the Erie Street Market operating for the rest of the year, but postponed a vote on a purchase agreement to sell the building and other city-owned land for a development that would drastically change the city's downtown and Warehouse District.

After negotiations with the Finkbeiner administration, Tetra Tech Inc. of Pasadena, Calif., has agreed to pay $4.2 million for 25 parcels, including the city's water-distribution building at 401 South Erie and the Erie Street Market building at 201 South Erie.

Jennifer Johnson, a Finkbeiner administration attorney and manager of real estate for the city, said the delay would not impact the sale.

Ms. Johnson presented council with a new version of the purchase agreement. The original agreement, released last week, required only a $5,000 "deposit" and let the company pull out of the deal for up to a year.

The new version requires Tetra Tech, a international firm whose revenues last year were $1.55 billion, to pay an additional deposit of $25,000 if closing has not occurred by Nov. 1, and an additional $50,000 if closing has not occurred by Dec. 31.

The $300 million development is to include a pedestrian-friendly walkway, office space, homes, shops, and a waterfront promenade along both sides of the Swan Creek from I-75 to the Maumee River.

Council wrangled last night over a suggestion by Councilman Frank Szollosi to pay the Cleveland law firm Squire, Sanders, & Dempsey LLP $5,000 to review the purchase agreement.

Mr. Szollosi said he didn't believe council should rubber-stamp the agreement without some due diligence.

Councilmen George Sarantou, Betty Shultz, Mark Sobczak, and Lindsay Webb voted against a motion to immediately consider that ordinance - which was enough to keep it off the agenda since eight affirmative votes were needed, and Councilmen Wilma Brown and Phillip Copeland left the meeting before that vote.

Ms. Johnson said having a private law firm look at the agreement was "completely unnecessary" and a waste of taxpayer money. "The law department has the expertise needed for this," she said.

Councilman Joe McNamara, who supported Mr. Szollosi's idea, said it was not unreasonable. "Council, over a number of years, has become less and less involved."

Mr. Sarantou said he was satisfied since the agreement already had been read by Ms. Johnson, city Law Director John Madigan, another attorney in his department, and "two attorneys who report to City Council - not the mayor."

Council did vote 9-2 to continue operations of the Erie Street Market building for the remainder of the year.

Mr. Szollosi and Councilman Michael Ashford voted no. Mr. Copeland was not present for that vote.

Councilman D. Michael Collins, Mike Craig, and Tom Waniewski each said they supported the ordinance with some degree of reluctance - chiefly because of the business plan for the market released last week, which they called weak.

However, they each said it could be important for the Tetra Tech deal.

"If you put a bandanna on a pig, it's still a pig," Mr. Waniewski said. "I am going to support this to let the prospective buyers know we are in full support."

He added that if Tetra Tech chose not to follow through with the development after they conduct environmental and feasibility studies, the city would have to make "tough choices" regarding the market.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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