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Published: Wednesday, 4/13/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Trade groups want union agreement in Marina sale

Collins seeks buy-back option; Bell rebuffs ideas

BY TOM TROY AND IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITERS
Conceptual drawings for the Marina District in East Toledo.  Conceptual drawings for the Marina District in East Toledo.
HANDOUT PHOTO Enlarge

As Toledo City Council begins studying the Bell administration's plan to sell the Marina District to a group of Chinese investors, building trades unions are seeking to bind the future developers to use only unionized contractors for the $200 million project.

The Northwestern Ohio Building and Construction Trades Council has given council a proposed "project labor agreement" that would be inserted as a deed restriction in the $3.8 million sale of 69 acres of the now-cleaned-up industrial property in East Toledo.

Also Tuesday, Councilman D. Michael Collins proposed an amendment to the sale agreement with Dashing Pacific Group Ltd. that would allow the city to buy the property back after two years for $2 million if the project is not at least 51 percent developed.

Mayor Mike Bell said he wouldn't support either idea and suggested that councilmen were acting as obstructionists.

"I don't have an issue supporting labor," he said. However, "I don't support anything council brought forward today. The private investors should decide on how they want to move forward since it is their money being invested."

Mr. Bell also said Mr. Collins' suggestion would never be accepted by the buyers.

"If these individuals choose to walk away from this deal because of the stipulations that continually seem to be mounting here, you all do not have an alternate plan of anybody who is prepared to step up because it has been sitting there for a long period of time," he said.

"People want to know why things don't happen here in this city. You are seeing [an] example," Mr. Bell said. "You will call it due diligence, but other people listening will call it something else."

Ron Rothenbuhler, regional director of the Ohio and Vicinity Regional Council of Carpenters, as well as chairman of the Lucas County Democratic Party, said the project labor agreement would ensure the work is done by skilled, local laborers working for contractors who pay city income tax.

"It's a standard form that we've used that eliminates any strikes, illegal work stoppages -- all the things that normally can happen that we don't want to happen," Mr. Rothenbuhler said just before attending council's meeting.

Mr. Rothenbuhler said a similar agreement is in effect with the construction of a new casino in East Toledo.

Council Tuesday discussed Mayor Bell's proposed legislation to sell the property and scheduled two committee hearings. The deed restriction was only briefly mentioned, but some councilmen expressed frustration over not knowing enough about Yuan Xiaohona and Wu Kin Hung, the two Chinese investors behind Dashing Pacific Group Ltd. Councilman Steven Steel Tuesday asked for the third time since Feb. 8 to see their resumes and portfolios.

Others questioned if the city is getting the best deal.

District 3 Councilman Mike Craig, whose East and South Toledo district includes the Marina District, has not endorsed requiring a project labor agreement as a condition of the sale.

"I'm not going to support this if it's going to stop the deal from going through. I think there's a good possibility [of that happening]," Mr. Craig, a Democrat, said. He said he encourages the Northwestern Ohio Building and Construction Trades Council to meet with the investors and negotiate a project labor agreement.

The agreement estimates 12,000 area trades workers and their families would benefit from the agreement.

So far, Mr. Rothenbuhler said, he's been rebuffed in efforts to meet with the developer's representative, Scott Prephan of Prephan Enterprises. Mr. Prephan, the local developer who connected the Chinese investors with Mr. Bell, declined to answer questions Tuesday after appearing for council's agenda review meeting.

"I do feel we're meeting some resistance based on a lack of communication between the potential developer and their representative and, of course, the building trades," Mr. Rothenbuhler said.

Dashing Pacific Group plans to build a mix of residential and commercial buildings inside an "international village," the value of which could eventually top $200 million, city Deputy Mayor of Operations Steve Herwat said.

Council President Wilma Brown, also a Democrat, said she had not read the proposed labor agreement, but questioned its wisdom.

"I am not sure we can do it," Ms. Brown said. "I am sure these developers will oppose it … so we will be stuck with property with no buyer."

The idea to require union-only labor at the Marina District has been floated unsuccessfully in the past. In mid-2008, former Councilman Frank Szollosi, a Democrat, sponsored and later withdrew an ordinance to require only union labor for private development at the riverfront Marina District when it was expected developer Larry Dillin would undertake the project.

In the agreement negotiated by the Bell administration, Dashing Pacific gives the city "a conditional repurchase option" five years after the sale if the property has not been developed. The city would pay $3.8 million.

Contract Tom Troy at: tomtroy@theblade.com or 419-724-6058.



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