The infusion of $26.8 million from the government treasury into the proposed convocation and community center in Youngstowm warrants public scrutiny of the project from beginning to end, which is why we applaud Mayor George M. McKelvey for his suggestion that interviews with prospective developers be conducted in the open.
McKelvey obviously understands a basic truth about the so-called arena project: Building it does not necessarily mean the residents of the Mahoning and Shenango valleys and beyond will come. It doesn't matter how many market surveys are conducted; if people don't feel they have a stake in the project, their support will be short-lived.
And while the review of the proposals and the interviews with the developers may not be conducive to public participation, individuals who attend could submit their opinions to the mayor, members of council and even officials of the companies that want to participate.
Such input is valuable.
A review committee, which will include McKelvey, Law Director Robert Bush, Finance Director David Bozanich and members of council, is expected to meet in mid-October to give the developers the opportunity to share their vision and discuss the proposals they have submitted.
Without a doubt, the $26.8 million federal grant to the city was the magnet. Three major developers submitted plans: The Landmark Organization of Austin, Texas, the Waterford Group of Waterford, Conn., and Garfield Traub Development of Dallas. All three share the belief that a sports arena, conference center and hotel are feasible and they appear to support city government's view that the land between the Market Street and South Avenue bridges is suitable for the project.
That said, these are three of the questions the developers should be asked when they are interviewed by members of the review committee:
1) Beyond the $26.8 million investment of tax money, do you expect city government to play any role in the development of the project or the operation and maintenance of the arena and conference center?
2) If public support fails to materialize, thereby forcing a shut-down of the arena, conference center and hotel, what will happen to the buildings? What assurances can you give the residents of the city of Youngstown that the structures will not be boarded up and forgotten?
3) Seeing as how suburban residents are important to the success of the project because of their disposable income, are you concerned that the proposed half-percent income tax increase on the November ballot will negatively affect your development plans?
The mayor's decision to include urban specialist Hunter Morrison in the review of the proposals is praiseworthy. Morrison, the former long-time planning director of the city of Cleveland, has first-hand knowledge of what it will take to make the riverfront project a success.
His input and insights will stand city government in good stead.
Residents of the region have an opportunity to hear for themselves what is being planned. Their attendance will send a strong message to City Hall that the expenditure of $26.8 million is not being taken lightly.