City moves toward civic center deal

The city expects to reach a contract by mid-March.
& lt;a & gt;By ROGER SMITH & lt;/a & gt;
YOUNGSTOWN -- A contract to develop the proposed downtown civic center project isn't expected for several months. The city and its developer, however, say they've taken a big step toward a deal.
The city and the Landmark Organization of Austin, Texas, -- now called FaulknerUSA after a recent merger -- signed a memo of understanding last week.
The memo isn't a contract. Instead, the document outlines two major elements:
* Main topics that must be negotiated to reach a contract.
* Work that must be finished in the meantime. For example, feasibility studies must be ready by Feb. 1.
"It provides a fundamental framework for a development contract," said David Bozanich, city finance director.
The memo is the commitment the company needs to devote its full resources to develop the project, said Terri Dusek, a FaulknerUSA spokeswoman.
The project is moving ahead expeditiously, she said. The company has been impressed with the city's commitment to moving the project along, she said.
Heading to Texas
In fact, one Youngstown official is heading to FaulknerUSA's home city, Austin, Texas, to get a better feel for the project, Dusek said.
Hunter Morrison, director of Youngstown State University's Center for Urban and Regional Studies, has been advising the city on the downtown project. He will travel to Austin soon to find out more about the ties between the University of Texas and that city, Dusek said. FaulknerUSA is building a hotel in downtown Austin.
Bozanich expects the two sides to reach a contract around March 15 that spells out all details.
Negotiations will stop if such a contract isn't reach by May 15, he said. The city would then likely move on to talks with its second choice for a developer, Garfield Traub Development of Dallas.
The city has the right to buy items such as feasibility studies from FaulknerUSA if a deal doesn't happen, Bozanich said. That way, the project would not have to restart from scratch.
City officials said in November when they picked Landmark, now FaulknerUSA, that they wanted to reach a contract by year's end. They qualified that time line, however, by saying they wouldn't rush negotiations. The city's request for project proposals issued in the summer said a memo of understanding was part of the process.
The memo shows good faith on both sides, Bozanich said.
Showing commitment
The memo means FaulknerUSA is committing to items such as conducting feasibility studies and creating preliminary architectural plans. The city is committing to carrying out an option to buy land for the project.
"This has cranked up both sides to move," Bozanich said. "The starting gun has gone off."
Talks now focus on maximizing what the city gets in exchange for its $26.8 million in federal funds available to the project, Bozanich said.
FaulknerUSA has proposed a roughly $70 million project. The elements would include a downtown arena, convention center and hotel.
The company is pitching a 6,500- to 8,500-seat arena at the project site between the South Avenue and Market Street bridges. There also would be a 30,000-square-foot conference center next door and a 250-room hotel connected to the conference center.
The merger announced two weeks ago that created FaulknerUSA won't affect clients, including the Youngstown project, Dusek said.
Earlier this month, Landmark merged with Faulkner Construction Co. Faulkner was a general contractor and construction manager with a 40-year history. Landmark was a developer and construction company with high-profile business partners such as banks and architects.
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