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Restraining order keeps Oakhill open for now



Published: Sat, April 29, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



The restraining order affects all Oakhill's tenants.

By DEBORA SHAULIS

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Tenants of Oakhill Renaissance Place have at least two more weeks to move out, or stay put, while officials seek short- and long-term solutions that affect the building's future.

The city and its health department filed a request for a temporary restraining order against Southside Community Development Corporation and Ohio Edison. The order was signed late Friday afternoon by Judge James C. Evans and Magistrate Timothy G. Welsh of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.

SCDC is the nonprofit group that owns Oakhill Renaissance Place, which is the former Forum Health Southside Medical Center on Oak Hill Avenue. SCDC, citing significant debts, told tenants April 19 to be prepared for the building's closure as early as Sunday.

Youngstown Health Department is located at Oakhill, and city officials said the offices couldn't be moved that soon. "Any interruption in these services would result in immediate irreparable harm to the plaintiffs and the health, safety and welfare of the general public," the order reads.

Purpose of order

The order prevents public utilities such as Ohio Edison from cutting off services to Oakhill and ensures all tenants have full access to the premises for now.

A hearing on the city's motion for a preliminary injunction will be at 8:30 a.m. May 12 before Judge R. Scott Krichbaum.

Mayor Jay Williams, who spoke at noon Friday with some Oakhill tenants, said the city will ask the court to keep the building open for a 60-day transitional period.

"We are still telling you to prepare for the worst as we hope for the best," Williams said.

City officials are talking to SCDC's board of directors about collecting rent from tenants who wish to remain at Oakhill for now but putting their payments into escrow. Then a third party can ensure that utility payments are made, Williams said.

Councilman Artis Gillam Sr., D-1st, agreed with tenants who said the city doesn't need another vacant building.

The city "is not in a position to take over the facility," the mayor said. The building's future "depends on what some other major players are doing," he added.

Williams was referring to Mahoning County commissioners, who had been studying a two-year-old proposal to buy the building from SCDC for $1 to consolidate county offices there. Oakhill tenants occupy between 40 percent and 45 percent of the building.

Here's the situation

Commissioners Anthony Traficanti and David Ludt have spoken favorably about centralizing offices at Oakhill. They and Commissioner John A. McNally IV also have said they lacked certain details, such as the building's physical condition, to make a decision.

"With all the things we've dealt with, it was hard to focus on that," Traficanti said Thursday.

Tenants welcomed a reprieve from moving out of Oakhill over the weekend, but the restraining order didn't take the sting out of SCDC's recent actions.

John Petracci, who with Gary Evankovich owns Oakhill Professional Pharmacy, said he's talking to other tenants about filing suit against SCDC for violating terms of their leases and not disclosing financial problems sooner.

"We have patients to take care of. We were treated very shabbily," Petracci said.

He also criticized Forum Health, which he said was "in collusion with SCDC."

Financially challenged Forum Health had subsidized Oakhill's operations until recently and guaranteed a $2 million development loan for SCDC that went into default, costing the hospital system $1.9 million.

shaulis@vindy.com




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