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Ambition extends beyond runways



Published: Sat, January 8, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The port authority can operate across county lines.

VIENNA -- The Western Reserve Port Authority is looking to spread its wings beyond the airport with its efforts to attract business, clean up the Mahoning River and help plan for an indoor racetrack.

"The port authority is the only organization that can basically bring both private and public funding to a business, and for ventures along those lines," explained Steve Bowser, interim director at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport.

The port authority has an active relationship with the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber and planning commissions in Mahoning and Trumbull counties, yet is "basically the only entity that can cross borders and handle the entire project under one roof."

It's the port authority for the entire Mahoning Valley, not just the airport's port authority.

At the airport, Bowser is the front man on these issues and communicates regularly with the board and daily with its chairman, William Reali.

The airport is one facet of the port authority, but right now is its only asset. Other ventures could come on board, like the indoor racetrack or industrial property deals.

"Those are the types of relationships we'd like to have, and it makes sense for business on a certain level to approach us," Bowser said.

If a project is between $2.5 million and $5 million, the developer should be talking with the port authority, he said. It can help with financing construction costs and can potentially bring about low-interest government loans. As a quasi-governmental agency it is exempt from sales taxes. Its foreign trade zone at the airport is an asset to certain types of business.

"We want to get the word out," he said.

River cleanup

One regional role the authority is taking on involves the river cleanup.

Last May, the authority was asked to become lead local partner in a $100 million plan by the Army Corps of Engineers to dredge the Mahoning River. The authority would become responsible for raising roughly $35 million that will not be covered by the federal government, and for buying 13 riverside sites needed for the dredging project. The port authority could benefit by leasing these sites after dredging is complete.

On projects of this type, the corps is required to have a local partner with the power to both put on taxes and take land by eminent domain. The port authority is the only body that has these powers in both Trumbull and Mahoning counties.

To come up with the $35 million local contribution, the port authority could seek state grants, solicit money from county commissioners, or search out other funding sources.

A proposal to dredge contaminated soil and remove dams from Leavittsburg to the Pennsylvania line in Trumbull and Mahoning counties has been under study since 1998. A $3 million feasibility study on the project is expected to be completed around the end of 2005.

The next step will be $13 million worth of engineering. Work, in phases, could begin in 2007 and conclude in 2017.

The authority also would be responsible for maintenance on the river after the project is complete and be liable for cost overruns and problems.

Racetrack proposal

Meanwhile, Trumbull County could be ready this month to seek federal Economic Development Administration money for a more detailed look at the market conditions and potential for the 40-acre covered racetrack proposed by Brant Motorsports at a spot near the airport.

The Mahoning Valley Motor Speedway project would cost $300 million to build, would initially seat 60,000, and be expandable to 120,000 seats. Brant Motorsports of Wheeling, W.Va., wants the project to be funded from a mix of private and public sources.

The Trumbull County Planning Commission would seek $150,000 from the EDA for the second-phase study on the speedway project. Trumbull and Mahoning counties would need to contribute 40 percent of the total $250,000 cost of the study.

Alan Knapp, planning commission director, has said a $100,000 local match could be derived from the port authority, but noted he first has to have more discussions with officials there and in Mahoning County, which has budget concerns for 2005.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, has said this would be the world's first indoor racetrack and would mean about 1,300 jobs with an estimated impact of $100 million annually. A $60,000 study in 2003, funded equally between Mahoning and Trumbull counties, found that the idea had merit, and that a publicly owned racetrack could be profitable, even if it didn't get a big race.




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