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Published: Monday, 3/16/2009

Mayor holds firm on Marina District plan for East Toledo

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

And even with a city deficit of at least $15 million that's forcing him to lay off 75 police officers, Mayor Carty Finkbeiner soon could ask City Council to approve $2.5 million in general obligation bonds to help fund the marina development.

"The Marina District is not on hold," the mayor said. "The developer is quite optimistic about his producing that which he is committed to by a date certain in March, and he has supporters in the state capitol supporting the Marina District for both state and federal stimulus money."

A majority of council last summer approved a new agreement with Perrysburg developer Larry Dillin and borrowing $3.9 million from the state.

Seven months later, the city's financial picture is drastically different. Still, Mr. Finkbeiner said the Marina District is poised for development this year, and Mr. Dillin said he is working to deliver $1.2 million due by March 31 for the purchase of least 14.66 acres in the southwest quadrant of the district.

The first phase has a $32 million value, according to city records.

Additionally, the Feb. 20 minutes from the mayor's weekly meeting on the project state that Mr. Dillin has an oral commitment for $50 million in equity.

The roadbed for Riverside Drive, the project s thoroughfare running along the riverfront, has been graded and is ready for pavement. The roadbed for Riverside Drive, the project s thoroughfare running along the riverfront, has been graded and is ready for pavement.
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"My responsibility is to come up with the $1.2 million land purchase contribution, so we are focusing on that and we have a verbal commitment, which we are finalizing time lines on and how to deliver that soon," Mr. Dillin said.

"We are in a challenging environment, as everyone knows," he said. "I think the city has several stimulus package requests and I think everyone is anxious to see what kind of support we get from that."

Mr. Dillin said that even if the city's request for $11 million of stimulus money for the project is approved, the development needs the financial industry to recover.

"We have been working on alternative bonds and pension funds through HUD," he said.

Council President Mark Sob-

czak said he is unsure how much stimulus money the city will get for the Marina District.

"I think there are higher-priority projects," he said. "A lot of that is going to be wrangled within the Legislature to determine what gets funded and what does not."

A number of councilmen expressed concern about putting more money into the project in the form of general obligation bonds. The current proposal is for a $1.8 million issuance; interest costs would bring the total to just under $2.5 million.

Councilman Michael Ashford has consistently opposed taxpayer support for the development.

He said Mr. Dillin should have already paid the city for the property he agreed to acquire.

"This city needed that money last year, and we just came to find out we still haven't received that money and they started construction," Mr. Ashford said.

"So, I'm not supporting any bill at the Marina District. Banks have already taken the lead to freeze lines of credit and stop development, so we should be not different than the private sector, saying we can't go forward until we clean up our own books."

After months of political and financial wrangling and the rejection of several complicated financing plans, work began in September on sewer lines and the main roadway through the Marina District's $20 million public park area along the river.

Those improvements are supposed to be the catalyst for what eventually is to be a $320 million private development.

Marina District construction was set in motion in August when City Council approved borrowing $3.5 million from the state and voted in favor of an agreement with Mr. Dillin.

Mr. Ashford and Councilman Frank Szollosi voted against the loan and the agreement.

Under that plan, $6.86 million was assembled for construction of Riverside Drive, extending along the river north from Main Street.

The money is to come from a $1.5 million grant from the Ohio Department of Development, the $3.5 million State Infrastructure Bank loan to be repaid by Mr. Dillin, $660,000 from the city's own capital improvement plan, and the $1.2 million from Mr. Dillin for the land in the Marina District's southwest quadrant.

The remaining $11.3 million to pay for the public park, which is to have fountains, a clock tower, performance space, and boat docks, is to be funded with $5 million from the Ohio Cultural Facilities Commission; the $2.5 million in 20-year general obligation bonds from the city paid by special assessments on Mr. Dillin's property; the $2.4 million from the land purchase by Mr. Dillin, and an additional $1.4 million from Mr. Dillin.

The city already has spent $1.84 million for water and sewer work at the park.

A roadbed for Riverside Drive along the Maumee River is graded and awaits pavement.

The mayor said Mr. Dillin has liability for $3.5 million of the $10 million road and water/sewer project - the first private commitment to the Marina District.

"I would be extremely disappointed in City Council, with Larry doing what he has done to herd up his financial position, as well as what we are doing, and that includes Larry with our friends in Columbus who are looking for shovel-ready projects," Mr. Finkbeiner said.

Councilman Lindsay Webb said she wants the Marina District to flourish but probably would not support general obligation bonds.

"I want to reserve judgment, but my first instinct is to say no," Ms. Webb said. "There has been no movement or traction that I have seen in the Marina District since the last legislation we passed, and this city's financial situation has changed considerably."

Mrs. Webb asked a question many seem to be considering: "In the midst of a severe economic recession, is it prudent for the city to travel down that path?"

The city is saddled with payments of $1.16 million a year through 2028 for the Commodore Perry, Hillcrest, and Museum Place apartments to cover general obligation bonds.

Councilman D. Michael Collins said he fears the mayor will add debt on top of that with Marina District bonds.

"I was told Larry Dillin has to come up with $1.2 million and was told he has some not-to-be named financier who will come up with $50 million," Mr. Collins said.

"Whether there is any substance to that, I have no idea. What I do know is I will not agree to anything new on the Marina District until I am sure we will not be held liable and hung out to dry."

Councilman Wilma Brown said the city's $15 million deficit eliminates the possibility of putting more taxpayer money into the project. "I don't think we need to keep adding to our budget," she said. "How long has it been on hold? Same with the Steam Plant. Right now we are in trouble and I think people want us to get back to basics."

Dave Amstutz, the city's director of development, said the $2.5 million bonds would be part of a required match for the $5 million from the Ohio Cultural Facilities Commission.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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