ENTERTAINMENT DISTRICT Lack of funds puts improvement plans on hold
There's no grant writer to secure dollars for entertainment district development.
By ROGER G. SMITH
CITY HALL REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- A few businesses are pursuing low-cost liquor licenses, but not much else is happening with the new downtown entertainment district.
"It's been low key," said David Simon, president of the Youngstown Arts and Entertainment District Association, or YAEDA. "The whole deal is kind of in limbo."
He points to lacking efforts in securing grants to improve downtown.
In February, the state made available 15 new liquor licenses restricted to the district, which encompasses the downtown. Each license is $1,875, far less than the $20,000 or so that some business operators pay on the open market.
Jeffrey Kurz, a local lawyer who is helping prospective downtown businesses for YAEDA, and a few others are seizing the opportunity.
Kurz and two partners plan to open an upscale cigar and martini bar in the old First Federal Building on West Federal Street. Kurz said at least three others, all on Federal Street, are seeking licenses, too: The Bean Counter Cafe; Core, a nightclub; and the prospective operator of Skeeter's Jazz Bar & amp; Grill.
Jason Logero, an owner of the Bean Counter, said he will use the license to add wines to his menu and expand his location. He expects to receive the license within the next month or so.
Core already has a liquor license. The new license, however, will let the owners sell the expensive permit, Kurz said.
Kurz has talked to Glenn E. Shelton Sr., who has applied to open the jazz club. Kurz described the planned club as upscale. Shelton couldn't be reached to comment.
Kurz also expects operators of two future projects to seek licenses. One is a new theater next to Edward W. Powers Auditorium that starts construction in the coming months, the Eleanor Beecher Flad Pavilion. The other is the planned rehabilitation of the Wells Building, which is expected to have a restaurant of some sort, he said.
Kurz expects other applicants to follow as the opening of the $42 million downtown arena nears.
Kurz said he plans to approach city hall and downtown's redevelopment agency, the Youngstown Central Area Community Improvement Corp., about accelerating the entertainment district development process. He wants city government to learn about how Columbus developed its entertainment district.
Securing state grants to make downtown more friendly to business is key to developing the district, Simon said.
More money is needed for items such as improved sidewalks, facades and streetlights, he said.
A grant writer is needed to secure such funds, he said, but the city doesn't have one. Neither YAEDA nor other nonprofit agencies in the city have the ability to employ a grant writer either, Simon said.
The city doesn't have the money to pay the salary, said Councilman Artis Gillam Sr., D-1st, who represents downtown. Mayor George M. McKelvey has long said he is only willing to take on a grant writer if the job is paid based on how much money is secured for the city.
Gillam said downtown is changing for the better and a lack of grants isn't holding back development. However, more grants certainly would help, he said, adding that council needs to re-evaluate a grant-writer position.
There is interest out there from businesses, Simon said.
YAEDA has had two recent business fairs to introduce prospective business operators to banks and government incentives. Each has drawn 20 to 30 interested entrepreneurs, he said.
A year from now with the arena open, the downtown needs to be able to service 2,000 to 7,000 people at a time attending events an average of three times a week, Simon said. Today, downtown restaurants can service about 500 people at a time, he said.
"The opportunity is here," he said.