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Commissioner wants county to take over Oakhill



Published: Thu, May 18, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



Southside Community Development Corp. wants the county to be the anchor tenant.

By DEBORA SHAULIS

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- A Mahoning County commissioner is proposing that the county take control of operations at Oakhill Renaissance Place by May 28, when insurance on the building will expire.

In a letter sent Tuesday to Lucas Ward, Ohio assistant attorney general, board president Anthony T. Traficanti says commissioners will vote on the takeover as well as assuming responsibility for a $450,000 loan that was issued by Ohio Department of Development to the nonprofit Southside Community Development Corp. if the state agrees to transfer the loan and later the property title from SCDC to Mahoning County.

SCDC, which operated Oakhill as a community hub since 1999, filed for bankruptcy May 3. The development loan is the only lien on the property, said Atty. John Weed Powers, a former SCDC board chairman who supports the county's takeover of Oakhill.

The loan was used for renovations, including the auditorium in the main building, Powers said.

Atty. Andrew W. Suhar, the bankruptcy trustee who is overseeing Oakhill, has indicated that the property should be abandoned as of May 28, according to the letter.

"I feel strongly that the building has significant value and particularly can accommodate a number of county offices as well as some state-funded programs which are now operated under the auspices of this county," Traficanti wrote.

Tenants remaining

Oakhill's remaining tenants include Mahoning County coroner's office, Youngstown City Health Department and a Head Start educational program for preschool children.

Mahoning Valley Hospital, which offers long-term acute care, announced plans Monday to relocate from Oakhill to Greenbriar Healthcare Center in Boardman beginning next Wednesday.

Traficanti and Commissioner David Ludt couldn't be reached to comment Wednesday. Ludt has previously expressed support for consolidating county offices at Oakhill, including the Department of Job and Family Services. The county rents space for JFS in the Cafaro Co.'s McGuffey Plaza on North Garland Avenue for $37,000 plus utilities.

Commissioner John McNally IV declined to comment until after the commissioners' regular weekly meeting today.

SCDC wanted the county to be an anchor tenant at Oakhill and offered in 2004 to donate the complex to the county.

The offer lingered with former and current commissioners. Then, on April 19, Oakhill tenants were told that the facility could close April 30 because of financial problems.

Obtained delay

The city, on behalf of its health department, was granted a temporary restraining order in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court that kept the doors open and utilities on for an additional two weeks.

The city's request for a preliminary injunction to delay closing for an additional 30 to 60 days has been superseded by SCDC's bankruptcy case. Oakhill remains open for now, although some tenants have moved out.

Forum Health sold the former Southside Medical Center to SCDC for $1 in 1998, then subsidized Oakhill's operations and guaranteed a $2 million loan that also was for development. That loan now is in default, and Forum says it's responsible for $1.9 million of it.

Forum stopped subsidizing Oakhill in March.

Powers was SCDC chairman from 1999 to 2004. He was interested in the group's mission to make Oakhill a center of revitalization on the city's South Side. "It's a historical building, and it needs to be preserved," he said.

Powers said his interest in the county's takeover of Oakhill is "simply from a community standpoint," he said.

shaulis@vindy.com




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