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Published: Friday, 10/23/2009

Hopefuls issue finance caution

BY JC REINDL
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Mayoral candidates Keith Wilkowski, left, a Democrat, and Mike Bell, an independent, address a group of about 40 residents at the soon-to-close historic Ohio Theatre in North Toledo. Mayoral candidates Keith Wilkowski, left, a Democrat, and Mike Bell, an independent, address a group of about 40 residents at the soon-to-close historic Ohio Theatre in North Toledo.
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From center stage of the soon-to-close Ohio Theatre, Toledo's two mayoral hopefuls Thursday night expressed desires to improve quality of life in North Toledo during a candidates forum.

Yet both men, independent Mike Bell and the endorsed Democrat Keith Wilkowski, said they weren't in a position to make big promises with the city likely facing another tight budget year in 2010.

"We can turn this city around, but we've got to be prepared to make some very hard, tough choices," said Mr. Bell, during the evening forum sponsored by the Lagrange Village Council.

About 40 people were in the audience as the two candidates sat side by side at a table and took turns answering six yes-or-no questions related to North Toledo. The two were ultimately in agreement on most matters, though sometimes with different reasoning.

Both candidates, who attended North Toledo's Woodward High School together, were in favor of extending the same $12 million package of grants and low-interest loans that the city recently offered the Kroger Co. to a new "high quality full-service" grocer that would open in the Manhattan Plaza Shopping Center.

Kroger Co. closed its location there earlier this month despite that incentive offer from the city and pleas from the village council. The closure left neighborhood residents without a comparable supermarket in walking distance.

"There should be no reasons why those incentives should not be available to another full-service, high quality grocery store," Mr. Wilkowski said.

Mr. Bell agreed, and added that replacing those lost Kroger jobs is important too.

The candidates gave qualified yes answers to a multitiered question regarding an 80-block area of the north end. The pledge called for repairing and replacing sidewalks, maintaining alleyways, resolving problems with nuisance properties, and ensuring timely snow removal.

Again, it would come down to dollars and cents.

"If we have the money available … the answer would be yes," Mr. Bell said.

A later call for a commitment to spend $2 million for road resurfacing in North Toledo got similar responses.

For Mr. Wilkowski, the "key point" was ensuring a healthy allocation of capital improvement dollars for road repaving throughout all of the city.

After several minutes of talking of pavement, moderators steered attention to the forum venue itself.

The historic Ohio Theatre, which opened in 1921, is in dire need of renovation and is set to close Nov. 1.

The theater is to be sold to Lagrange Development Corp. in hopes of eventually acquiring the $3 million necessary to restore the landmark and reselling it to its current operators.

So moderators asked the candidates not only if they would help the project gain federal funding, but if they would submit the theater to the state as Toledo's "No. 1 priority" for capital funds.

Neither candidate agreed to make the Ohio Theatre their

No. 1. However, both men said they were open to making the restoration plan one among several projects on the city's request list.

"I love this theater," Mr. Wilkowski said. "It's close to my heart, and it's close to the community's heart."

Contact JC Reindl at:

jreindl@theblade.com

or 419-724-6065.



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