Left: Earlier vision of proposed Marina District, courtesy of Pizzuti.com
This article also appears in the Toledo Free Press
(Toledo, OH) Mayor Carty Finkbeiner's decision to fire Columbus-based Pizzuti Companies as the developer for the proposed Marina District on April 3 has created an opportunity for the city to perform many of these duties in-house.
The man tapped by Finkbeiner to lead the project is Don Monroe, executive director of River East Development Corporation. Monroe has been involved with East Side development for more than 30 years.
Monroe said he was never involved in the decision to bring on Pizzuti in the first place.
"That decision was made on the part of the Ford administration," he said. "I did not participate in that process at all."
The amount of actual work done by Pizzuti, according to Monroe, remains unclear. He said the developer and its subcontractors were paid approximately $250,000 for their work prior to the termination of the Pizzuti contract.
"It's hard to evaluate. Obviously, they didn't get any development done, and they did not put in place any commitments to developments that were already in place in the city or the port, such as the marina and the boat terminal," he said. "It's hard to put a value on their predevelopment activities."
Monroe said the mayor's decision to fire Pizzuti was primarily one of performance.
"I believe that was a guiding point with the mayor. He made it clear early in his administration that he expected results," he said. "So, if the mayor had other reasons, they were secondary to the non-delivery of an anchor tenant by Pizzuti."
Monroe said he believes the enormity of the Marina District has scared off many developers.
"Anything of this magnitude as a redevelopment project takes a lot of money and energy," he said. "Most prospective developers never submitted a proposal; they just gave their qualifications. We've already had two developers come and go on this project."
Among the ideas Finkbeiner and the development team are exploring is the possibility of a boardwalk and waterway system in the Marina District.
"We'd need to evaluate the cost and value to our community if we did put some sort of a waterway system there," he said. "But in addition to building a canal, we're looking at several piers and lagoons that can help fund development."
There may be some other changes from previous visions of the Marina District, Monroe said.
"We are tentatively looking at adding an amphitheater in International Park as well as a visitors' center," he said. "We are expanding the boundaries of the Marina District to include most of International Park, and we want to expand the amount of housing shown in the earlier proposals."
Monroe said he has heard little new about the possibility of potential retail anchor Bass Pro making a decision about its new location.
"I personally don't know any more than I did the day after they were here. It's a pretty tight-lipped corporate group," he said. "They are pretty much in the driver's seat, especially with the legislation just passed in Columbus designed for them. I don't know that anyone is in a position to influence them, but they have said they want a store open in 2007."
Despite problems the Marina District has faced, Monroe said he is optimistic the Finkbeiner administration has the pieces in place for a successful project.
"We shouldn't slight the cleanup; the city has completed work in excess of $10 million," he said. "There will be a marina, and there will be a terminal. The marina should be completed in less than a year, and the terminal should be started in less than a year."
Monroe said skeptical observers of the Marina Project should understand there is one significant change in the newest incarnation of the development team.
"At this point, this one is being wholly driven by the city, as opposed to outside interests," he said. "That's the important difference, and we have a mayor who is fully committed to making this project succeed."