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Council should hold off on arena site selection



Published: Sun, May 6, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



With Youngstown State University no longer a major player, the financial viability of the proposed convocation and community center is even more uncertain today. It, therefore, becomes Mayor George M. McKelvey's responsibility to slow down a push by city council to proceed with the purchase of a site.

If necessary, McKelvey should veto any ordinance that instructs the board of control, made up of the mayor and finance and law directors, to sign an option or a purchase agreement for the property.

Such a veto would require five votes to override, but the override would not take effect until council placed the issue on the November ballot as a referendum.The voters of the city of Youngstown would have the opportunity to say whether they support council's initiative, or McKelvey's deliberate approach to the project.

Two weeks ago, the mayor told The Vindicator that before a site is selected, the non-profit convocation board should determine the level of private- sector interest in investing in the project.

McKelvey correctly noted that the only money secured thus far for the $40 million project has come from the federal and state governments.

Public dollars: Congressman James A. Traficant Jr. of Poland, D-17th, secured $26.8 million from Congress and Youngstown businessman Bruce Zoldan persuaded the Republican leadership in the Ohio General Assembly to allocate $1.5 million for a sports arena project that he was developing. Zoldan has since pledged that money to the proposed convocation and community center as a result of Traficant's designating Youngstown to be the recipient of the federal money.

The mayor is of the opinion that the future of the project, which is based on a sports arena concept, must be judged on the basis of private sector investment. He told us that if no investor or group of investors steps forward with $16 million to $20 million, that will be a clear indication that the project as conceived is not viable.

The mayor said the city would then have to look for an alternate project of some kind.

But just a week after he outlined his position, Councilman James E. Fortune Sr. informed members of the convocation board that lawmakers had concluded that the land between the Market Street and South Avenue bridges was their preference for the convocation and community center.

The decision was made without the input of the 13-member convocation board, which council created, and without meaningful involvement of the consultant who was hired by the city to evaluate six possible sites.

Fortune's announcement was ill-advised and, as it turns out, premature.

With YSU President Dr. David Sweet informing the convocation board that the university could not be counted on as being a tenant, the project has lost a major participant. The feasibility study that was originally conducted on a sports arena made it clear that YSU's participation was crucial. The university was being asked to play its basketball games in the arena at a cost of about $300,000 a year.

Private sector: Without YSU, private sector investment is even more critical. McKelvey is right when he says that any investor will want to have a say on where the center will be located.

We would hope that in light of the latest developments council will suspend all activity pertaining to a site and, instead, work with the convocation board on seeking private dollars for the project.

But if lawmakers remain unyielding, we urge McKelvey to stand firm on his position and do what he must to block council.




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