YOUNGSTOWN Official: Let's rethink downtown agency
A councilman thinks the Central Area Community Improvement Corp. should be re-evaluated.
By ROGER G. SMITH
CITY HALL REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Periodically, talk emerges about altering the city's arrangement with its downtown redevelopment agency.
Councilman Rufus Hudson, D-2nd, thinks it's time for another one of those chats.
It's time to analyze the downtown agency, the Youngstown Central Area Community Improvement Corp., assess its successes and failures and decide what's next, Hudson said.
He doesn't see much private money as part of the public-private partnership. He questions city and federal money spent preserving buildings that now must be torn down and marketing efforts that have led to few new businesses. Why continue with the same setup if it hasn't worked, Hudson asks.
Possible direction: Providing incentive to succeed, such as turning property over to someone with a profit motive, may be the next direction, he said.
"We have to do something," Hudson said.
He thinks there are a few other council members open to re-evaluating the agency.
Charles P. Sammarone, who is president of city council and CIC, has heard similar talk before.
The issue arises every couple of years, he said. He expects it as the agency searches for its third director in three years. One director resigned in 1999 to pursue other business interests. The successor, Alden Chevlen, resigned in July under what the agency called an internal personnel issue.
Everybody is frustrated that more progress hasn't been made downtown, Sammarone said. That isn't limited to downtown, either. Everybody wants to see even more progress in improving city services, too, he said.
Not working: Criticizing the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber of Commerce, which has a contract to handle the CIC staff, is hard when virtually giving away buildings hasn't worked, Sammarone said.
CIC provides all kinds of programs to lure development, but there simply is no demand for the space, he said.
"If you can't get somebody into a free building, what can you do?" Sammarone asked.
There has to be money available if vacant land is the answer to new development. That's not an option, either, since the city funds CIC and has little spare money.
The cycle continues.
"No money is no money. You're still at a standstill," Sammarone said.
Problems don't go away if the city retakes control of the buildings and downtown development, he said. Indeed, politics makes them more complicated.
CIC's makeup -- 60 percent private sector members and 40 percent public -- is designed to ease political pressures.
For example, neither the city nor the county could get a government building done. CIC took the criticism and did the George V. Voinovich Government Center, Sammarone said. The CIC took the flack for demolishing the old Higbee building, too.
Unrecognized: Those successes aren't always recognized, said Reid Dulberger, the chamber's executive vice president. He is heading the CIC staff until a new director is named.
Any city council suggestions -- three members in addition to Sammarone are CIC board members -- for improving the agency's success are welcome, Dulberger said.
He isn't sure CIC can be any more aggressive in making big changes with the little available money.
The next director, however, is expected to put his or her talent to work and produce progress, Dulberger said.
"We're always looking to do a better job," he said. "We want better results."