Downtown agency rebuilds its relationship with council

Council will give the CIC six months or so before evaluating its future.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Recent exchanges between city council and its downtown redevelopment agency are serving as a base for a reconstituted relationship.
A list of questions detailing council's concerns and the agency's answers have changed the dynamic, said G. Richard Pavlock, president of the Youngstown Central Area Community Improvement Corp.
"We've cleared the air. We've got a communication line open," Pavlock said. "I don't feel the animosity."
Several things have happened since two council members -- Ron Sefcik, D-4th, and John R. Swierz, D-7th -- sponsored legislation in November that would sever ties with CIC. They and other council members have said the agency hasn't been effective.
What was done: First, council members sent the legislation to council's finance committee, eliminating the immediate threat to the agency's future. Part of that was to give Councilman Artis Gillam Sr., D-1st, recently elected CIC vice president, and Robin Rogers, the newly hired executive director, a chance to act.
Those who sponsored the legislation and the other council members have agreed to give the agency six months or so. They want to see progress on issues such as private sector investment in downtown property.
Council also sent the agency a list of 13 questions in late November. Several questions were about the status of specific projects, but others revealed council concerns about the agency's direction. CIC responded to the questions in late December. That discussion is a good place to start future relations, Pavlock said.
The exchange should clear up issues that resurface regularly, such as how CIC operates and why it follows certain policies, he said. For example, CIC explains its building lease guidelines in a question about financial flexibility for potential tenants.
What's ahead: The coming months, with Gillam's help, also should bring more clear communication between the agency and council, Pavlock said. CIC is willing to talk about whatever council wants, he said.
"We're making some very, very strong efforts so there's no surprises," Pavlock said.
Gillam said council will become more involved with the agency, rather than looking at it from the outside.
Council has been included in the past. City Council President Charles P. Sammarone just ended five years as CIC president. Gillam, Richard Atkinson, R-3rd, and James E. Fortune Sr., D-6th, are agency board members.
Gillam, however, said having a ward council member who also is a top CIC officer will mean even more. Gillam said he shares his colleagues' concerns in balancing the needs of neighborhoods and downtown. His perspective will benefit all council members, he said.
"That makes a big difference," Gillam said.
CSB building: One big test will be a new building for the Mahoning County Children Services Board on a CIC-owned block where Master's Tuxedo once operated.
The block fronts on West Federal Street, just west of Home Savings & amp; Loan.
CIC is awaiting word on whether the county will do the project.
"Everything is in place to make it happen," Pavlock said.
One such project every year or so "would make all the difference in the world" to downtown, he said.

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