During the 1990s, downtown Cleveland was transformed when developers built a new baseball stadium for the Cleveland Indians and a new basketball arena for the Cavaliers.
The finance director who worked on those projects will bring his experience to Sandusky, helping developer John Eymann lure a new hotel to the Marina District.
Stephen Strnisha, now the director of financial services for Project Management Consultants, said he likes to work on projects that will augment his resume.
"I'm in it for the project to be successful," said Strnisha, who is also working on a $250 million development for the Flats near Cleveland's downtown.
Eymann told commissioners during a special meeting Tuesday that he's in talks with hotel developers and said there appears to be strong interest, despite a bad economy that's making it hard to move new projects forward.
"We'd like to have somebody signed up this calendar year," Eymann said.
Craig Stahl, the ex-officio mayor, advised Eymann and Strnisha to move as quickly as possible.
"The clock is ticking," said Stahl, noting that the current commission can't obligate a future one.
Eymann said after the meeting he is talking with about five hotel developers to meet his goal of building a hotel with 120 rooms.
"All of the major brands are in play," Strnisha said.
Strnisha said the hotel project could serve as a catalyst to move other aspects of the Marina District forward.
"Development has to start somewhere," said Strnisha, who estimated a new hotel could provide $150,000 to $200,000 of new tax revenues to Sandusky every year.
Strnisha said he anticipates the city would have to use tools such as tax increment financing to help hotel developers choose Sandusky.
"If they can't make a deal work here, they'll find some other place," Strnisha said.
Tax increment financing captures a portion of the new real estate taxes generated by the development of a project. That revenue stream can be used to finance bonds to help make a project happen, he said.
Erie County has used this type of financing to fund water lines and public improvements for Kalahari Resort and other developments.
City commissioner Bob Warner warned he isn't interested in using up all of the money from a tax increment financing agreement to fund the hotel. Warner said it's also important to find a way to pay for the relocation of city hall.