An alliance of five companies forming a development group in Marysville, Ohio, announced a plan Thursday to build a soccer field, an indoor ice rink, volleyball courts, retail space, and a hotel where Southwyck Shopping Center used to stand in South Toledo -- all possibly started with the help of a $50,000 loan from the city.
The Bell administration has asked Toledo City Council to approve the loan for MJW, Inc., also known as MJW Development Group. Cliff Gaston, the firm's operating manager, said the money would pay for a market study of the 55.8-acre property that has been vacant since Southwyck's building was razed in 2009, a year after it closed.
Along with several of his partners, Mr. Gaston stood alongside Toledo Mayor Mike Bell in his 22nd-floor suite at One Government Center to announce the plans for the weedy, blighted property that the shopping mall, vibrant for most of its 36 years, once called home.
Mayor Bell said he believes in the group's concept for a mixed-used recreation and retail development.
"We have had people for the last couple of years saying, 'What are you going to do with that?' " Mr. Bell said. "Realizing that it is private property, but knowing it is inside our city, we need to be able to try to step up and come up with some kind of solutions. Well, here you have a solution."
"I think the concept has merit to it," the mayor added. "Is it risky? Yes, everything we do in this economy is a little bit risky right now, but they are willing to step up and try to do something that could be great for our city."
According to its Web site, registered last year, MJW Development Group is a partnership of Ruscilli Construction Co., Berardi Partners, and M+A Architects, all in Columbus; Athletic Alliance of Marysville, and Bank Ready Plans of Orlando, Fla.
Dan Pritt, a half-owner of Athletic Alliance, who is working as a sports arena consultant for the project and is a member of MJW, said the plan is to create a "sports village," with the hotel and retail at the center.
"Each venue will have its own amenities and management, and what our hopes are is to go ahead and put together a central point people would come in, register for tournaments, and check into their hotel."
Mr. Pritt said MJW has an "agreement in principle" with the majority owner "which has collaborated with the other entities involved."
He said the partners would decide between Nov. 1 and Dec. 15 whether to proceed with the project, which could be built in seven stages over the course of two to 10 years.
The mall property's ownership is divided among three entities. The managing partner is MD Management in Kansas City, a firm formerly known as Dreiseszun & Morgan. Various trusts of the Morgan and Dreiseszun families now own about half of Southwyck through a firm called S-S-C Co.
Jim Harpool, director of development for MD Management, confirmed MJW has an agreement to buy the site.
"There is an agreement in principle, but they have not executed a contract to purchase," he said. "If they are willing to execute a contract and we are willing to give them a reasonable due-diligence period, at which time we want money to go hard and them to close in a relatively short time."
Mr. Harpool said the owners will continue to market the site in the interim, "just in case they don't get their deal done."
The $50,000 loan would come from $300,000 that FirstEnergy Corp. gave Toledo in 2009 to "enhance economic development within the city," according to city documents.
"Certain funding under this program was provided to Midwest Terminals, in the form of a $50,000 loan, which was repaid including $3,000 interest," the request to City Council states. "Accordingly, these funds are now available to loan to developer MJW, Inc. to assist it to undertake the acquisition and redevelopment of the former Southwyck mall site in south Toledo."
Midwest Terminals operates several docks at the Port of Toledo under contract with the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority.
The proposed Southwyck legislation says MJW plans to use the loan to pay "predevelopment expenses," such as the market study, preliminary design, and survey and/or legal work.
The money will be loaned at 4 percent for a five-year period, Deputy Mayor Tom Crothers said.
the city would receive copies of the market study and own all rights to it if MJW defaulted on the loan, Mr. Crothers added.
Councilmen Rob Ludeman, who lives in South Toledo and has known about the plan for several months, said he backs the idea and the loan.
"This is the highest priority in the southwest corridor into Maumee and Springfield Township," Mr. Ludeman said. "I think $50,000 coming from a FirstEnergy grant is money well spent to make sure this is the right thing to do."
Councilmen D. Michael Collins, also from South Toledo and whose district includes the property, said he would not support the loan. He believes too many questions remain unanswered.
"Unless someone comes forward with all their Ts crossed and Is dotted, I don't believe any false hopes should be defined as the future of this property," Mr. Collins said. "There were no specific commitments as far as financing, and the only expectation of money going to the project was [a] $50,000 loan at 4 percent for a feasibility study that should have been done well in advance of offer to purchase."
Council is expected to take up the matter first during an agenda-review meeting Tuesday.
Contact Ignazio Messina at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6171.