By Ed Runyan
Grace Fellowship Church of Niles’ board president says the church unanimously rejected a proposal to sell an option on 65 acres it owns in Vienna Township, sought by developers of a proposed $300 million racetrack and resort.
The land is just west of the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport.
Mike Wilson, who also is executive director of the Trumbull Soil and Water Conservation District, said real-estate broker Scott Lewis of Edward J. Lewis Inc. asked the church’s pastor, the Rev. John Temple, to consider optioning the land to the Mahoning Valley Development Group.
Wilson said Lewis asked the Rev. Mr. Temple whether he thought the church would consider selling the option on the land with the buyer being the racetrack/casino developers.
“The pastor said 100 percent no,” Wilson said.
Mr. Temple told Lewis the church would never sell to “any business like that” — a company involved in the gambling industry, Wilson said.
The church membership affirmed Sunday the pastor’s position, Wilson said.
Mr. Temple is en route to Israel and could not be reached to comment.
The church purchased 123 acres on the south side of King Graves Road on each side of state Route 11. Sixty-five of those acres being on the east side of SR 11, and the other 58 on the west side.
Rick Lertzman and Bradford Pressman, heads of the development group, have declined to identify the location of their proposed racetrack-and-resort project.
Lertzman said Wednesday night that the area near the airport is one of the spots his company is considering, but not the only one. The location also could change as the project progresses, he added.
The church, meanwhile, plans to use the 58 acres for construction of a new worship space in the coming years, Wilson said. The other 65 acres are landlocked, and the church doesn’t need them, Wilson said.
However, the 65 acres are near other vacant parcels that might accommodate a project of the size being proposed by the development group, Wilson said.
Lertzman said Jan. 18 that the company had an option to buy 200 acres, was working on an option for an additional 200 acres and might be interested in as many as 700 acres.
The developers are proposing construction of a racetrack, resort, golf course and 400-bed hotel with a 2,000-seat arena on the first floor, an indoor water park and possibly a casino with slot machines.
In 2005, Mr. Temple was a vocal opponent of casino gambling in the Mahoning Valley. At the time, the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma was planning to build seven to nine casinos, one possibly in Lordstown.
The pastor also was active in 2001 in a clergy-based group that fought Northfield Park Associates, owners of a harness-racing track near Cleveland that applied for a state license to operate a parlor in Eastwood Mall for simulcast harness and thoroughbred races.