The consultant's reported pullout is no reflection on the project, the mayor said.
By ROGER G. SMITH
CITY HALL REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- There's an open question as to whether a lead consultant on the proposed downtown civic center project has pulled out.
That still doesn't slow anything down, even if it's true, the mayor says.
Tom Chema of Gateway Group Consultants was to update the arena board Thursday. An hour before the meeting, however, board Chairman Robert VanSickle said Chema told him and a couple of other members that Gateway wouldn't be working with the city and left the office.
Chema, who headed the Gateway project in Cleveland, didn't want to work directly with city government, VanSickle said. Chema prefers working with independent groups not affiliated with city hall, VanSickle said.
A months-long debate over the arena board's independence recently ended with the city's taking decision-making power on the project. The board is left as an adviser.
Chema couldn't be reached to comment Thursday night.
Mayor's reaction: Chema's reported pullout surprised Mayor George M. McKelvey, who was invited to update the arena board on the project's progress.
As of Wednesday, McKelvey said plans for next week were for him to meet with VanSickle, Chema and Compass Facilities Management of Ames, Iowa. The group was to create a request for proposals that seek potential private developers for a civic center.
McKelvey said he missed a call from Chema late Wednesday night and wasn't aware anything had changed.
Chema's reasoning: Chema has said that he doesn't want to get into project management to avoid a conflict of interest, McKelvey said. Chema might work with a private developer who will make a bid for the project, the mayor said. That developer could be Bruce Zoldan, for whom Chema did a private arena study a few years ago.
Nonetheless, McKelvey said he expected Chema to help create the request for proposals.
Even if Chema is out, McKelvey said that doesn't change anything.
Chema's reported pullout is no reflection on the project, McKelvey said. There are other professionals available to work on items such as the request for proposals, he said.
The project will move ahead, regardless, McKelvey said.
"We have to speed up this timeline," he said.
VanSickle agreed that Compass, which the arena board interviewed last year and recommended, is qualified even if Chema is out.
Criticism: Confusion over Chema's role led to a few accusatory exchanges between the mayor and a couple of board members. Also, board member Charles P. Sammarone criticized VanSickle and others for talking with Chema at all.
That should be done only with all board members, not among a few, Sammarone said. VanSickle defended his approach, saying his role as chairman is to know what is going on and report developments to the board.