YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Members of city council and the city’s economic director argued verbally at a council finance committee meeting over the cancellation of a redevelopment project at Dorian’s old building Books.
Last Thursday, 802 Elm Development asked the city to cancel the request for the $ 2 million floating loan, said T. Sharon Woodberry, the city’s director of economic development.
The developer, majority-owned by Pittsburgh-based Mazzarini Real Estate Group, was in the process of purchasing the building and planning to convert it into a delicatessen with fruit and fresh produce on the ground floor and apartments upstairs. superiors.
The decision of Council members a week earlier of file the legislation authorizing the loan, moving the case to her community planning and economic development committee “blinded her,” Woodberry said in a statement she read towards the end of the committee meeting.
“Personally it was both disappointing and frustrating to have put in six months of effort working with a developer to present a quality project to city council, but those efforts were thwarted by what I can at least say be a lack of communication and professional courtesy extended to the economic development division, ”she said.
Council members were briefed on the project in July, and pending legislation and project details were discussed at the community planning and economic development meeting on November 9, as well as the November 29 Finance Committee meeting, she added. She also told the meeting that the developer wanted to complete the acquisition of the property and the financing of the project by the end of the year.
“I have no problem with city council members wanting to do their due diligence to gain confidence in any project presented to city council. However, I don’t understand how it can be done when I have never received a phone call, email or text message asking me about this project, ”she said.
City councilor for the first ward, Julius Oliver, where the project was located, said he was okay with going ahead with the project, especially since the loan was secured by a letter of credit irrevocable. He also agreed that his colleagues decided to put it on another reading for further discussion, as he had received “multiple calls” from people warning him against the deal.
“I don’t think the city council ever said it was not in favor of the deal,” he said. “I think some of my colleagues just wanted more information.”
He also said he was unaware there was a specific timeline for the project. Whether the developer felt the need to opt out of the project is up to the developer, not the board. “The developer has decided,” he said.
It is unfortunate that the developer did not understand how the city council works or its timelines, said third ward councilor Samantha Turner. “It’s our prerogative to hold back and ask our questions, because that’s part of our job,” she said.
Sixth Ward Councilor Anita Davis said she had also received calls and emails raising questions about the project.
“If I have a colleague who says he still has concerns and wants to ask questions, I think it’s up to us to go ahead and take a break. I’m not making a comment or accusation or anything, but we certainly have to be very aware of two words – Chill-Can, ”she said.
At the meeting, council members will also consider at their Wednesday meeting bills relating to a controversial downtown street project and the removal of old tanks from the gas station on Wick Avenue.
Council now has second reading legislation that would authorize the city’s control council to strike a deal for a $ 1.3 million grant for Walnut Street and Boardman Street safety improvements. At third reading, there is an agreement for another grant of $ 300,000.
The total project, which would include converting a now-closed section of Walnut Street into a pedestrian staircase from Commerce Street north to Wood Street, has an estimated price tag of $ 2.9 million, but Charles Shasho, deputy director of public works , said he expects the project to fall short of that estimate.
Shasho, Oliver, Mayor Jamael Tito Brown, planning consultant Hunter Morrison, Nick Chrétien of the Economic Action Group and Nikki Posterli, Brown’s chief of staff and director of community planning and economic development, have expressed support for the project. to council members, who have previously expressed concerns about the city’s emphasis on the downtown area to the apparent detriment of neighborhoods.
“We focused a lot on what we call the core and corridor strategy, looking at the investments that have taken place in the heart of the city, but on how we can complement and complement those investments by building on above, ”Morrison mentioned.
Since 2014, the city has received approximately $ 22 million from the Ohio Public Works Commission grant program – the source of the $ 1.3 million grant – for a road improvement project, including only $ 5.5 million was used for the downtown area, Shasho said.
He also pointed out that some streets in the city are limited in the types of subsidies to which they are entitled. When it comes to planning street improvements, the city does not have the same flexibility on streets that are part of state and federal highways as it does for streets that are entirely under its control.
The idea is to make the “economic engine” of downtown Youngstown so healthy that the city can reduce its “high blood pressure,” the city’s income tax, Oliver said.
“Because the city center is the heart of the corridors that are the arteries and the veins, if the heart is unhealthy, we are not injecting this economic development into the city,” he said. “My idea – and I hope the mayor and my colleagues will agree with me – is to have as healthy a heart as possible, to pump as well as possible, to lower blood pressure or lower blood pressure. taxation, to bring businesses back to the city and continue to extend the rope in the neighborhoods at the same time as we are working on it downtown.
Davis, who was particularly critical of the condition of parts of Market Street, dismissed the idea that businesses have left the city because of its income tax rate.
“It’s because of the crime rate,” she said. “There is always a perception that Youngstown is not a safe place to live.” The city needs to take action so that people see things being done to make people feel safe and see that neighborhoods are improving.
“We absolutely have to make sure that we put the same effort into neighborhoods that we did downtown,” said Brown.
At Wednesday’s meeting, council members will also review legislation to accept and award a $ 212,750 abandoned gas station clean-up grant from the Ohio Department of Development to remove and repair underground tanks from a old gas station located at 1395 Wick Ave.
The city-owned property is one of some 40 such sites in the city, Posterli said. “It gives us the opportunity to clean up this area and redevelop this site,” she said.
In 2017, the city received a brownfield assessment grant of $ 200,000 to prepare an inventory of oil brownfields, conduct environmental site assessments and prepare clean-up plans.
The city can apply for funds for one site at a time and must have completed the work before applying for another, she said. The site is near the Wick Six area which was dominated by car dealerships years ago and which the town had previously cleaned up.
“This is just an extension of what we want to do there so that we can have a full redevelopment site,” she said.
Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.