Council OKs site choice for arena

Availability of sufficient vacant land and ease of traffic access make the between-the-bridges site ideal, councilmen say.
YOUNGSTOWN -- All seven members of city council and their president have affirmed their choice of the land between the South Avenue and Market Street bridges as the site for the proposed new $40 million convocation center.
The affirmation came in a roll-call vote at Wednesday evening's council finance committee meeting at which the arena was the only subject on the agenda. The vote means the committee members are recommending council pass a resolution selecting that site at its next meeting Wednesday.
Committee Chairman James E. Fortune Sr., D-6th, had announced May 2 to the arena board's executive committee that the consensus of council favored the between-the-bridges site, which contains 32 acres along the Mahoning River. The arena board will meet at 4:30 p.m. today in the basement conference room at City Centre One.
"Let it be set in stone. This is my pick," said Councilman Mike Rapovy, D-5th. He added that the WRTA Federal Station site would require costly acquisition and demolition of buildings and possibly close off West Federal Street when city officials are spending money to reopen closed sections of it.
What they said: "Economically, logistically, everything points to between the bridges. It's a no-brainer," he said, noting that both South Avenue and Market Street have direct access to I-680, which connects to the Ohio Turnpike.
"I don't think there could be any better place. You have the freeway there. You have parking. You have enough room for expansion," said Artis Gillam Sr., D-1st, whose ward includes the chosen site. No demolition is required there, he added.
"It's expandable. You can put the arena down there. You can also put some other things surrounding it. The ingress and egress, the traffic patterns and everything flows," said Rufus Hudson, D-2nd.
"We have an opportunity right now to do something for the periphery of downtown, which will cause other spinoff around it," he added.
"Some of the other sites weren't feasible because they were too closed in. They would create traffic problems," he said, adding that the WRTA site would pose a traffic problem if Powers Auditorium and the arena had simultaneous events.
"It's flat land. It is accessible. It is part of downtown," Councilman John R. Swierz, D-7th, said of the council's chosen site, adding that federal brownfield redevelopment money could be available for that location. State natural resources development money could also be available for a riverfront park there, he observed.
Some $26.8 million in federal funds has already been designated for the arena project, and more funds are being sought from investors.
Market for arena: Asked to comment on statements by arena board members last week that the users and market for the arena should be established before a site is selected, and on a letter from Youngstown State University president David Sweet saying the university is unlikely to become a major arena tenant, Hudson said:
"Once we get a management team in place, it is their responsibility to conduct a market feasibility study and find out what the potential market is and who we can bring in to fill the thing. We want to get a management team hired as soon as possible. If the feasibility study comes back saying it's not as feasible as we thought it was, then we'll deal with that situation."
"The clock has been ticking ever since April of last year," and the deadline for spending money to build the arena is Sept. 4, 2004, Hudson said. As for YSU's position, he added, "That's not a surprise to anybody. YSU can't fill Beeghly [athletic center]."
Any objection that the bridges site is too far from YSU's campus for basketball use doesn't seem reasonable when the university's baseball team travels eight miles from campus to use Cafaro Field in Niles, Rapovy said.

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