If all goes according to plan, a developer for the proposed Youngstown convocation and community center should be on board by this fall. That's five months from now. If that time line doesn't silence the naysayers -- temporarily, at least -- nothing will.
Ever since Youngstown City Council decided a couple of months ago that the 13-member convocation board should have an advisory rather than a policy-making role, there has been a steady drumbeat of criticism about the city's handling of the proposed project.
Some skeptics have gone so far as to suggest that Youngstown give back the $26.8 million that Congressman James A. Traficant Jr. secured from the federal government. Fortunately, the idea has not been taken seriously by Mayor George M. McKelvey and city lawmakers.
What has been evident, however, is McKelvey's determination to prove the naysayers wrong about the ability of city government to make the project a reality.
After the convocation center board decided to disband rather than accept its new status, city fathers agreed that that the first step in bringing the project to fruition was to hire a consultant. Compass Facility Management of Ames, Iowa, is being paid $59,100 for a six-month contract. Compass has assigned a team to work on the project and has begun background research.
The time line announced by the mayor recently was developed by Compass. Company staffers have conducted local market research and have been looking at prime tenant prospects for the center, such as minor league hockey, indoor football, concert promoters and other regional entertainment.
Staff members will be spend the next month talking to potential local users of the center.
Demand: The question they obviously want answered is one that we have long believed should drive the project: What level of demand is there for an arena that features indoor sports and other entertainment activities?
The goal, of course, is to develop a set of specifications that the city and Compass want developers to have when they're deciding whether to get involved in such a project. Given that $26.8 million of taxpayer money is being spent on the project, it makes sense for the mayor and council, with input from the public, to articulate their vision for the convocation and community center.
On the other hand, city government should willingly step aside if a developer, such as the one in Massillon, comes in with a proposal to build a sports arena in downtown Youngstown and requires only a small financial investment from the city.
In that case, the city would have the luxury of working with the federal government in determining how much flexibility it had in spending the $26.8 million.
For now, however, there is a time line with a September date, at the latest, for awarding a contract to the developer who submits a proposal that meets all the city's requirements. Residents of Youngstown can now judge how well the mayor and city council are doing.