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YOUNGSTOWN Council to reveal arena site



Published: Wed, May 2, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



An announcement today would affect the city's negotiations on options to buy possible sites.

By ROGER G. SMITH

CITY HALL REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- City council wants to meet with arena board members tonight and afterward announce where the arena will be built.

Council members said Tuesday that after their regularly scheduled meeting tonight, they want input on site selection from the arena board's executive committee. Then there will be a press conference announcing council's choice for a site.

Two members, Rufus Hudson, D-2nd, and Michael Rapovy, D-5th, said they have made up their minds but wouldn't say which site they favor.

"We've done our homework," Rapovy said.

Input wanted: Others, Richard Atkinson, R-3rd, and John R. Swierz, D-7th, said they want to get the arena board's input before making up their minds.

James E. Fortune Sr., D-6th, said he would support the consensus among his colleagues. He declined to talk about his view.

No members of the arena board's executive committee could be reached to comment about the developments.

Whether any meeting will be legal is unclear. Under its bylaws, the arena board must give 24-hour notice for special meetings.

Council members talked about having the meeting late this afternoon. They pushed the meeting back to the evening to when The Vindicator pointed out council's need to give 24-hour notice of meetings. They planned to fax notices about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Any meeting must be open to the public and press. The city charter doesn't allow council or its committees to go into closed session for any reason.

Favored space: Virtually all speculation has been that a majority of council members favor the space between the Market Street and South Avenue bridges as the arena site.

The spot provides plenty of space and a site on the Mahoning River, a recent report concluded.

Concerns focus on difficult access to the site, that the former steel mill land could need expensive environmental cleanup and that it won't produce spinoff development. People going to an arena there wouldn't need to flow through downtown, hurting economic development potential, the report says.

Other sites outlined in the study that have generated the most interest are on downtown's west end.

If council announces a site, the move would be in direct contrast to Mayor George M. McKelvey's view on how the project should happen.

Private developers: Last week the mayor said no site should be picked until private developers willing to invest in the project are consulted on where the building should go.

Developers making up the difference between the $26.8 million secured so far and the expected $40 million-plus cost aren't going to be told where to invest their money, he said.

No council members talked with him about picking a site, McKelvey said this morning.

Bargaining: An announcement today would short-circuit the city's negotiations to buy options on several possible arena sites. Revealing a preferred site before securing multiple options will send the sale price far higher than necessary, the mayor said.

McKelvey was surprised that a decision would be announced before council talks with consultant Tom Chema.

Council said it would review the strengths and weaknesses of possible sites with Chema in a public meeting, the mayor said.

McKelvey was with council members Tuesday evening as the finance committee talked about legislation concerning the arena. Council members announced their intentions after McKelvey left the meeting for another appointment.

The only local developer publicly expressing an interest in the project so far is Bruce Zoldan of B.J. Alan Fireworks.

Zoldan has talked with some council members informally about the site, said Bill Weimer, general counsel at B.J. Alan.

Private-sector input into a site is important, but it's council's privilege to make the pick when it wants to, he said.

Money issue: Council members talked about whether to appropriate $100,000 for the arena board's use. Hudson objected, saying no money should be set aside until the board produces some invoices. He also raised other issues about the spending.

Fortune said he would get answers to the questions before council votes on the appropriation.




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