Commissioners weigh whether to accept donation of building

The building could house offices other than those of Job and Family Services.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning County commissioners say converting a former hospital into an office center could be a model for other counties to follow toward revitalizing communities.
They also want to explore whether the former Forum Health Southside Medical Center, now known as Oakhill Renaissance Place, is an option for locating county offices other than the Department of Job and Family Services.
During their meeting Tuesday, commissioners gave the go-ahead for county officials to analyze whether it would be cost-efficient for the county to accept the former hospital as a gift from Forum Health.
"Nothing has been decided for sure, but the possibility is there," said Commissioner Vicki Allen Sherlock. "We just want to make sure we follow through with our due diligence and make sure this is in the best interest of the county."
Commissioners have talked for weeks about possibly moving JFS out of McGuffey Plaza on the city's East Side, where it's been since 1988.
Lease was offered
The Southside Community Development Corp., which owns Oakhill, originally offered to lease the county space in the building, but now is offering to donate it instead.
"It is our desire to provide a basis for redevelopment of the South Side," said Adrian R. Byrne, SCDC executive director. "We see this resolution as a very appropriate measure by the commissioners to apply due diligence."
Sherlock said Auditor George Tablack and other county officials will sit down with the SCDC and Forum Health to examine whether it would be cost-effective or a financial hindrance for the county to accept the building.
Commissioner Ed Reese said the study should also examine whether the building could support moving nonjudicial county offices like those of the auditor, treasurer and recorder there from the courthouse.
"I've always been a believer that the courthouse should be for the courts," Reese said. He said moving the other offices out of the courthouse would free up much-needed space for the courts.
Anthony M. Cafaro Sr., president of the Cafaro Corp., said last week that government documents filed by SCDC, a nonprofit corporation, have shown that Oakhill has lost money over each of the past three years. Cafaro owns the McGuffey Plaza and is trying to secure a new long-term lease with the county there.
"It would be a classic boondoggle," Cafaro said. "The county had better watch what they're doing before assuming a building whose operating costs apparently exceeds its income."
Sherlock said that's the reason for the analysis -- to ensure that the building will not be a financial albatross for the county.
Annexation petition
Commissioners also accepted a petition asking that 57.5 acres be annexed from Green Township to the city of Salem. A public hearing on the request will be within 60 to 90 days.
Atty. Frederic E. Naragon of Salem said the property is along state Route 14 just west of Salem, across from Wal-Mart. He said a developer plans to build a Home Depot store there.
If the annexation is approved, the property would remain in Mahoning County but would become a part of Salem, Naragon said.

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