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Published: Friday, 1/7/2011

Officials say Toledo's Docks, Marina District, and Imagination Station might be sold to Chinese

Mike Gibbons, the owner of the Real Seafood Co. and Zia's restaurants at The Docks said he is unconcerned about the closing Thursday of his restaurants' neighbors — Navy Bistro and Tango's — because he was told that complex's property along the Maumee River has been sold to a company in China that intends to fill the Bistro space with an Asian eatery.

Mr. Gibbons also said it was his understanding that the city was selling to the Chinese parcels in the Marina District as well as the Imagination Station science center in downtown Toledo.

“That's the word that I've heard and it came from two sources who have been completely reliable,” said Mr. Gibbons, president and chief executive of Main Street Ventures of Ann Arbor

But a spokesman for the city of Toledo, which owns The Docks property, denied the property has been sold. Spokesman Jen Sorgenfrei noted that City Council by law would have to vote on a sale of that magnitude.

“There is no purchase agreement of any sort with any buyer at this point,” she said.

However, the city is in talks with parties interested in The Docks property, she said.

“We continue to market that property to all potential investors foreign and domestic,” she said.

A city councilman backed up the restaurateur's account.

Rob Ludeman, chairman of Toledo City Council's economic development committee, said there is a Chinese developer interested in city waterfront properties, including The Docks and the 128-acre Marina District, and who has made several trips to the area. He said he had lunch with the group in early November after Mayor Mike Bell returned from his economic development trip to China.

“They're real estate developers, investors. They like Toledo. They like the mayor. And they're looking seriously at doing something here,” said Mr. Ludeman, who is a real estate agent. “I would not be surprised if they put together an offer on The Docks and then possibly the Marina District.”

The Marina District, proposed in 2000, is a plan to convert heavily polluted land on the waterfront north of Main Street in East Toledo into a $320 million mix of apartments, restaurants, and nightclubs along the river.

News of the possible foreign buyer came after local restaurateur Tom Cousino told the city Thursday that he was closing Navy Bistro and its banquet facility. Tango's, which had been shuttered “for the season” at The Docks also was permanently closed.

Mayor Bell said Thursday that Mr. Cousino was done in by the bad economy.

However, Mr. Gibbons said his Real Seafood restaurant just completed one of its most profitable years ever at The Docks and is in no danger of closing. “We anticipate continuing there for many years,” he said.

Mr. Gibbons said he was told the Chinese firm that now owns The Docks has ties with an Asian style restaurant chain based in New York, and that it plans to open in the Navy Bistro site. He declined to name his trusted sources, but said he was contacted by Toledo officials Thursday night and told of the Cousino closings. He said he plans to meet with city officials on Sunday.

City Councilman Michael Collins said Friday afternoon he had heard about the possibility of a deal involving The Docks, Marina District land, and the Imagination Station footprint but said he has not confirmed it with mayor's office or anyone else.

He stressed that any deal to sell city real estate and assets would have to be approved by council. He said he had not heard if there is a deal hammered out awaiting council approval.

Mr. Collins did say the mayor last year sought approval from council to market The Docks as an asset potentially available for investment.

“If the Bell Administration is selling Toledo; if there are investors interested and willing to come to the City of Toledo to bring about a new vitality that we are all in dire need of, then I am in support of that,” he said. “But the mayor does not have final authority without council approval. ... We will do our due diligence.”

Mr. Ludeman said the Chinese developer would likely have Chinese money to invest, unlike many other would-be developers who are stymied by an unwillingness of banks to make loans.



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