Toledo City Council voted 10-2 Tuesday afternoon to authorize the Bell administration to sell the The Docks restaurant complex to two Chinese investors.
Councilmen D. Michael Collins and Lindsay Webb cast the no votes.
Under the deal, the complex would be sold for $2.15 million to the Dashing Pacific Group.
The two Chinese investors interested in buying East Toledo's riverfront restaurant complex want the city to know that deal is just the beginning of their multimillion-dollar development plan.
The pair of investors, who have been identified as Wu Kin Hung and Yuan Xiaohona, forwarded a memorandum of understanding Monday night to Toledo Mayor Mike Bell pledging their intent to buy and develop part of the once-polluted Marina District in East Toledo into a mix of hotels, restaurants, and condominiums.
Mr. Bell signed the document Tuesday afternoon at his office.
"They wanted to formalize, at least in the form of a memorandum of understanding, so people will know how much they are interested in the Marina District," Scott Prephan, the local representative for the investors' firm, Dashing Pacific Group Ltd., said.
"They look at it like one whole package and obviously the Marina District is a much more complicated deal," Mr. Prephan said. "Ever since their first trip to Toledo, they were so enamored with the property they started doing site planning right away and playing around with different ideas."
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Dashing Pacific Group has agreed to buy the city-owned Docks restaurant and entertainment complex, along with the adjacent building most recently occupied by Toledo's parks, recreation, and forestry department, for $2.15 million.
Since the deal with the Chinese investors was announced last month, some local investors also have expressed interest in the property.
Joe Schaefer, a longtime Toledo financial adviser, plans to tell council during Tuesday's meeting that it would be a bad idea to sell the property to Dashing Pacific Group and it should instead consider his offer.
Mr. Schaefer plans to organize a group of local investors and offer a price for The Docks close to or slightly higher than the amount on the table from Dashing Pacific Group.
"This would be a cash deal -- no bank financing," he said.
"Why sell it to them for less than half of what it is worth when you can sell it to people who live here in Toledo?"
Mr. Schaefer, who was unaware Monday night of the memorandum of understanding on the Marina District, said The Docks would be a good investment because of the new casino being built nearby in East Toledo.
He said the owners of Calvino's Restaurant and Wine Bar, 3143 West Central Ave., and Arnie's, at 3332 West Central, have expressed interest in opening restaurants in the two spots at The Docks that were occupied until recently by Navy Bistro and Tango's.
Fred Calvino, owner of the restaurant bearing his name, confirmed his interest Monday night. Arnie Elzey, former owner of Arnie's, could not be reached for comment.
"What if they turn around and sell that to the casino [owners] for $6 million and how can you run restaurants from China?" Mr. Schaefer asked rhetorically.
Mr. Prephan said the investors plan to get new tenants at the complex and hire a local manager.
Dean Monske, Toledo deputy mayor of external affairs, said Tuesday's memorandum of understanding is the first step toward signing a deal for millions in investment at the Marina District, and he added that he is skeptical of other offers for The Docks.
"There are multiple other people who are all of a sudden saying they want to put a deal together to buy The Docks, which I have a hard time understanding because for the last three years, the city has made it clear we wanted to sell it," Mr. Monske said.
"If council wanted to entertain something else, then they have the right to turn down this purchase agreement [with Dashing Pacific]."
Toledo Law Director Adam Loukx said council is not required to accept a higher bid for The Docks.
"There is a belief most people have that when you're buying something you have to go with the lowest bid, and the converse is you have to go with the highest bid when you are selling something," Mr. Loukx said. "It is waivable and we don't even have to take bids … and the other thing you can look at is whether we are looking at long-term relations, but the bottom line is you have discretion."
No current purchase price for Marina District property has been stated, or how much land would be purchased, or the value of the development.
The mayor's office Monday night released conceptual drawings from the investors that show a waterfront building with a boardwalk, an Asian-style outdoor shopping area, and housing.
Mr. Monske said the memorandum of understanding is not legally binding but shows the investors' commitment.
"It will state, based on the closing of The Docks, they will begin moving forward immediately and begin work on the details for the development of the Marina District," Mr. Monske said.
City council could vote at its regular meeting this afternoon to approve the purchase agreement with Dashing Pacific Group for The Docks property.
Mr. Monske said the two Chinese investors -- whom he and Mayor Bell met during a trip to China in September, 2010 -- would pursue the Marina District deal if the The Docks closing goes smoothly.
"This is their first deal in the United States and they want to be comfortable with the mechanics of how a real estate deal is done here," he said.
"What they envision is an international shopping center where the old Sports Arena used to be and as you walk toward the old Toledo Edison plant, you would have residential."
There have been multiple plans over the past decade to take the heavily polluted former industrial site south of I-280 and north of Main Street and turn it into an urban wonderland and destination spot with upscale restaurants, hotels, and as many as 2,000 condominiums.
In fact, Mr. Monske said the two Chinese investors were given copies of old plans for the site, including conceptual drawings from Perrysburg developer Larry Dillin.
Mr. Dillin's plan for a total development of about $320 million at the 125-acre site -- which was strongly pushed by former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner almost up until his last day in office in 2009 -- never materialized and ultimately joined all the other failed proposals since the project was first conceived more than a decade ago.
Approximately $40 million of taxpayer money from local, state, and federal sources has been spent so far cleaning up the Marina District.
That amount includes about $5 million of state grants and loans spent in 2008 and 2009 to complete a one-mile roadway with decorative street lighting that was designated Riverside Drive
The Bell administration thinks this new plan from Dashing Pacific Group finally could be the real deal for the property.
The 12 councilmen, who will have the ultimate say on the sale of The Docks and Marina District, were briefed Monday night about the memorandum of understanding.
Rob Ludeman, chairman of council's economic development committee, said he was pleased with the document. "I expected it because when I met with them just before Christmas they had some pretty amazing renderings -- really exciting stuff," Mr. Ludeman said.
"It comes down to numbers. Dillin had a great plan, but just couldn't get financing so I am pleased we now have people with the financial wherewithal and a vision."
Contact Ignazio Messina at: email@example.com, or 419-724-6171.