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Published: Friday, 8/1/2008

Erie Street Market shows will go on, city leaders say

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The "Metro Mixer" today and the concert tomorrow night at Toledo's newest downtown entertainment venue - the Erie Street Market - will go on, city leaders insisted yesterday.

That's despite accusations of stolen stage lights and a political uproar over how Mayor Carty Finkbeiner used almost $80,000 of taxpayer money to renovate part of the city-owned building.

Local concert promoter Robert Croak, of the Verso Group, was tapped by the mayor to schedule shows and events at the market, 237 South Erie St.

Today's mixer, dubbed "First Fridays," begins at 4 p.m., and will feature Rodney Parker and Liberty Beach, DJ Rob Sample, and Bridges. The blues-rock duo The Black Keys will perform at 8 p.m. tomorrow.

Over the past month, a flurry of work, lasting some nights until midnight, has been taking place to transform the market's largest area - Bay 4 - back into a concert and event space.

Croak yesterday said 24 stage lights belonging to him were installed recently in that section of the building after being removed from Headliners, 4500 North Detroit Ave.

Anthony Varwig, owner of that concert venue, wants them back.

According to a police report, Mr. Varwig said Croak had no right to remove the lighting.

"They were just taken out unbeknownst to me," he said yesterday. "We are meeting with detectives and the bottom line is I just want what belongs to me back."

Croak said he has a receipt for the lights and promised they would be working by the time the show starts tomorrow night at the market's newly renovated Toledo Civic Theatre. It used to be called the Civic Auditorium.

Headliners is taking a huge hit at the expense of the city's reopening the market for concerts and Croak's switch to that location.

The Black Keys were to play at Headliners as was the national punk band New Found Glory on Sept. 21. But both groups were moved by Verso to the city-owned building.

The Finkbeiner administration said it is staying out of the dispute between Croak and Headliners.

"Sounds like to me we are in the middle of a divorce," said Andy Ferrara, a city economic development specialist who monitors the market for the mayor's office.

Installation of the lights along with other work, including the expansion of an outdoor deck, painting, floor restoration, and restoration of the space's historic stage, were funded without prior knowledge of or approval by Toledo City Council, which has some members up in arms.

Republican Councilman George Sarantou yesterday called the mayor's action's deceptive. "Why didn't the administration notify council that they were planning to make major renovations to the Erie Street Market?" he asked.

"I think we had a right to know because we asked for a business plan and because the administration knows how deeply concerned we are about the Erie Street Market."

Councilman D. Michael Collins, an independent, was the first to publicly question the cost of the renovations and how the mayor was able to make them without council approval, which is needed for expenditures over $10,000.

The work at the market totals $79,879, which was split into 13 contracts - each less than the $10,000 threshold, according to Finkbeiner administration records.

Democratic Councilman Frank Szollosi yesterday said he asked the clerk of council to request a legal opinion regarding the money spent for the civic theatre at the market.

Mr. Szollosi thinks a section of the city charter prohibits spending on a "municipal theater" without a referendum.

"Clearly, bundling the [market] expenditures also violates the spirit and intent of the charter section requiring council approval over $10,000," he wrote in an e-mail yesterday.

Council President Mark Sobczak said council would get answers on Wednesday when the Finkbeiner administration is sure to face tough questions about the expenditures on the market during a council committee-of-the-whole meeting.

"Council is going to have to make a determination of what we are going to do," Mr. Sobczak said. "If they want to go a different course, they can do that and if they want to stay the course, they can do that."

Robert Reinbolt, the mayor's chief of staff, said 1,250 tickets had been sold so far for tomorrow's concert. The venue will hold 2,200.

Croak is keeping 100 percent of the gate but is not permitted to keep any proceeds from alcohol sales, of which the city will get 60 percent.

Croak was convicted on one count of forgery and has been arrested for but not convicted of underage alcohol sales, according to court records. The forgery conviction stems from a 2001 accusation that Croak falsified records to obtain a liquor permit.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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