YOUNGSTOWN Councilmen urge demise of redevelopment agency
CIC won't disappear even if council ends the relationship, the chamber said.
By ROGER G. SMITH
CITY HALL REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- The future of downtown's redevelopment agency is questioned perpetually, but now city council members are pushing the issue to the brink.
Councilmen John R. Swierz, D-7th, and Ron Sefcik, D-4th, are sponsoring legislation that would withdraw the city from the 1988 agreement creating the Youngstown Central Area Community Improvement Corp.
CIC is the city's designated downtown agency; the city funds CIC.
Instead, both said they would give the CIC's responsibilities to the city economic development office.
"I don't see that the ... [CIC] has been effective," Swierz said. "I think it's time we go in a new direction."
Mayor George M. McKelvey said he hasn't talked with council about bringing downtown development into city hall.
"I don't know what the logic and reasoning is behind the request," he said. "I need more background."
Swierz and Sefcik say they aren't certain they have the votes to pass the measure.
Artis Gillam Sr., D-1st, the downtown council member and newly elected CIC vice president, is certain the legislation will pass its first of three readings when council meets Wednesday.
Gillam agrees that CIC needs changes but said the city still needs the agency. So, he will start working to persuade his colleagues to keep CIC. One reason is that the nonprofit agency can do things under the law that the city can't, he said.
Questionable future: Almost annually, questions are raised about CIC's future, considering the lack of progress dealing with the many vacant downtown buildings the agency owns.
Swierz said he and Sefcik are pushing the legislation now because talk heated up again and no other council members stepped forward. Gillam suspects an event a few months ago is part of the reason.
Gillam said many council members, including himself, were angry when the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber of Commerce didn't advise council before firing the two-member CIC staff in July. The chamber has a contract to provide CIC staff and doesn't have to notify council of its moves.
No city officials have raised that problem or any other with the agency in public or private, said Reid Dulberger, the chamber's executive vice president.
Four council members sit on the CIC board. Overall, 40 percent of the agency's board members are city officials or appointees.
"One doesn't know how to respond," Dulberger said. "I'm surprised this wasn't brought before the group."
Binding contracts: CIC won't disappear even if council ends its relations, Dulberger said. CIC has legal contracts saying the city must pay for maintenance and environmental costs of about two dozen vacant buildings as long as the agency owns them, he said.
CIC has a little noncity funding, such as parking lot revenue, and can seek other sources so it would survive, Dulberger said.
Only the CIC board can fold the agency, he said.
G. Richard Pavlock, CIC's newly elected president, said he was shocked to hear about the movement in council.
Like Gillam, Pavlock said he plans to show council members why the CIC is needed and what it has accomplished, such as the building the George V. Voinovich Government Center and leveling the old Higbee building.
"Hopefully, we can gain their support," Pavlock said. "If that doesn't work, they'll have to vote their consciences."
Funding issues: Lack of city funding is a main reason more hasn't been done, he said. Everybody understands the city doesn't have much to give, but the agency can't be faulted when it has little to work with, Pavlock said. CIC has done the best it could with what it had, he said.
The agency should have spent the past 10 years seeking noncity funding to fuel progress, Councilman Sefcik said.
Seeking new funding streams is a main focus for Robin Rogers, CIC's newly hired executive director. Rogers said she isn't familiar with the history between the city and CIC but wants the chance to promote good relations.
"I hope to work with everybody," she said.