Mayor George M. McKelvey is justifiably excited by the response the city has received to its request for proposals for the so-called arena project. Several national developers have expressed an interest in being involved in an endeavor that could bolster Youngstown's economic revitalization effort.
However, McKelvey has tempered his excitement by reiterating his long-held belief that the investment of private dollars to supplement the $26.8 million federal grant is absolutely essential to the project's success. And, he remains firm in his contention that the city of Youngstown will not participate financially in the operation and maintenance of the sports arena, convention center and hotel. All three are among the elements developers have included in their proposals.
Given the city of Youngstown's dire financial condition, the mayor is absolutely right in letting developers know from the get-go that the $26.8 million grant, which was secured by former Congressman James A. Traficant Jr., is the only public money that can be expected. McKelvey has said that the commitment of significant private financing will prove the viability of developing the complex along the Mahoning River between the Market Street and South Avenue bridges.
The proposals from Landmark Organization of Austin, Texas; Waterford Group of Waterford, Conn., and Garfield Traub Development of Dallas, Texas, are noteworthy because they all envision a sport/entertainment/community complex. In addition to the 6,500- to 8,500-seat arena that would feature hockey and indoor football, a convention center and a hotel, there would be restaurants and entertainment outlets. In other words, these national developers have concluded that it isn't enough for the city simply to put up a sports arena.
To his credit, in announcing that Congress had approved the money for a convocation and community center -- the legislation did not specify a sports arena -- Traficant made it clear that this gift to Youngstown would be wasted if the mayor and city council failed to recognize the development opportunities that had been presented to them. Traficant contended that a hotel was essential to the success of a sports arena, and he also argued that the project should be located on west end of downtown, nearer to Youngstown State University.
Council and the mayor, however, chose the site between the bridges, which the city is expected to buy from its private owners for $1.5 million.
McKelvey and lawmakers did bow to Traficant's wishes and form a 13-member arena board made up of business and community leaders. However, after many months of feuding with the board, council decided to disband it.
The mayor then took over the project, got council to go along with the hiring of a consultant, and ultimately put out a request for proposals..
City officials, along with Compass Facility Management, will review the four proposals -- the fourth one from MG Financial Services of Carmel, Ind., provides for a sports arena only -- and hear presentations from company executives. If everything falls into place, construction could begin in spring 2003.
But given the uncertainties surrounding this project and the fact that the city could lose the $26.8 million in four years if substantial progress has not been made in spending the money, we believe the administration and council should have an alternative plan for utilizing the federal grant.
Youngstown would be nationally embarrassed if the grant were withdrawn by Washington.