YSU, Wick group grapple with neighborly issues
By Denise Dick
A Youngstown State University committee doesn’t want Wick Neighbors Inc. to function as its development arm, but it would like to negotiate with the organization to acquire five parcels WNI owns in Smoky Hollow.
Those were among the recommendations last week during a finance and facilities committee meeting of YSU trustees.
A YSU committee of trustees Harry Meshel and Leonard Schiavone; John Hyden, executive director of facilities, and Atty. Greg Morgione, associate general counsel, met with Wick Neighbors representatives on the future relationship between the two entities.
WNI submitted a proposal to the university to restructure itself “as a community-development corporation formally partnered with YSU, serving as the development arm of the university,” material submitted to committee members said.
The organization would restructure its executive committee, allowing YSU the authority to appoint the WNI board chairman and the majority of seats on the executive committee.
Under the proposal, WNI’s physical assets such as engineering design work for the infrastructure improvements along Walnut Street and five parcels in Smoky Hollow, appraised at about $33,000, would be transferred to YSU.
The organization also wanted the university to provide it with office space on campus. WNI is located in St. John’s Episcopal Church on Wick Avenue. YSU would have the authority to appoint a new executive director.
YSU’s group has different ideas.
“Our committee felt it would probably be in our best interest to continue to have Wick Neighbors operate as an independent community development group,” Morgione said.
The university isn’t in a position to commit resources including personnel, facilities and funding that would be needed to oversee WNI operations.
“Additionally, if YSU were to have majority membership of the executive committee and appoint the board chair of WNI, YSU would be asserting such control over WNI that there may not be sufficient independence between YSU and WNI, thereby potentially causing YSU to be legally responsible for the actions of WNI,” materials given to the YSU committee said.
Paul Olivier, chairman of the WNI board, said the board has a meeting late this week, and YSU representatives are scheduled to attend. The board hasn’t seen the recommendations from the YSU group.
“It doesn’t change our plans any more than our plans had already been changed” due to the downturn in the economy, Olivier said. “We are still able to make progress in the Hollow.”
He said that a couple of years ago, the organization started thinking about evolving its role beyond Smoky Hollow.
“The idea was to see if it would be feasible to do a YSU-Wick Neighbors partnership,” Olivier said. The organization started through the efforts of former YSU President David Sweet, he said.
“We thought it makes sense for us to be more integrated since we came into being at the behest of YSU,” the board chairman said.
The YSU group also recommended that the university consider assigning an individual to work with the agency on development opportunities surround campus. The individual would be a liaison between YSU and WNI.
It also recommends that WNI continue to use its office space at St. John’s.
“It would be difficult for YSU to provide WNI with office space and equipment with the financial challenges presently facing YSU,” the group said in the committee materials.
Another recommendation from the YSU group is to negotiate with WNI to acquire the five parcels it owns in Smoky Hollow.
“It would be prudent for YSU to own these parcels, and the sale of the parcels would provide WNI with additional funding to support its operations,” the group’s recommendations said.
Olivier said he couldn’t speak to whether WNI would be interested in such negotiations. That’s a decision the board would have to make after hearing YSU’s proposal, he said.