ARENA BOARD Issues linger over purpose

Other questions remain before a site is chosen, a YSU professor says.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Arena board members are wondering whether efforts to develop the proposed $40 million facility are putting the cart before the horse.
"What are we building this for? Who is going to go in there? Who is going to provide revenue to operate the facility so it doesn't become a white elephant for the city? I think that reality check needs to be brought to this project," said Dr. William C. Binning, professor and chairman of political science at Youngstown State University.
"I think some serious questions need to be raised about the entire project before we get into bickering with the city about where the site is," Binning said at Thursday's arena board meeting.
Binning called board members' attention to an April 17 letter from YSU President David C. Sweet to Leonard D. Schiavone, arena board chairman. Sweet wrote that the university is unlikely to become a major arena tenant but would consider "a more limited support role."
YSU athletic administrators are enthusiastic about playing men's and women's basketball games in the arena, Sweet wrote, but they have said they need a location convenient to the campus and are concerned about scheduling, expenses and foregone revenues if the games leave campus. Sweet also cited "financial challenges" and state budget concerns facing YSU.
"We have a unique situation. We have money. We have a lot of potential. ... Some things have just got to be a little bit more focused, and bring in some of the professionals that do this day to day," to consult with the arena board in June or July on site selection, said Paul A. Lyden, vice president and owner of Lyden Oil Co.
Some $26.8 million in federal funds has been designated for the project, and additional funds are being sought from investors.
Possible sites: Claire Maluso, an aide to U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr., said Bruce Zoldan, a potential prime tenant and manager of the arena, told her he prefers a site on the west end of downtown.
The board's discussion came a day after City Councilman James E. Fortune Sr. announced that council favors the proposed site along the Mahoning River between the South Avenue and Market Street bridges.
Fortune said he polled his fellow council members before the announcement and said council will eventually have to vote to designate the site.
"This site is not etched in stone," Fortune told the arena board Thursday. Six sites have been studied for the project.
Schiavone said Mayor George McKelvey told him the city doesn't have an option to buy the between-the-bridges site at a specific price. The mayor had expressed concerns about land price inflation if council's preference was announced.
Other action: Council appropriated $100,000 to the arena board Wednesday and authorized renting a second-floor office in the city-owned Wick Building to the board for $1 a year for up to five years.
The arena board voted Thursday to seek applicants for its legal counsel and to provide directors' and officers' liability insurance.
The board will likely discuss hiring its office administrator and secretary at its next meeting at 4:30 p.m. next Thursday in the City Centre One basement conference room, Schiavone said.

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