A Tennessee consulting group gave the city and Mayor Charles Sammarone about 50 points to make a better Youngstown.
Another consulting firm out of Rhode Island will, by January or so, give the city probably as many suggestions — just on the Covelli Centre.
And Sam Covelli, without any consulting contract such as the above, gave the city 10 million ideas to think differently.
Last month, Covelli, owner of Covelli Enterprises and the largest Panera Bread franchisee in North America with more than 250 stores, plopped down $10 million for a new sports facility at Ohio State University.
Part of the reason, as Sam explained, is a marketing investment in Columbus, where he has many stores.
But part of it, too, is his fondness and passion for OSU.
Covelli has the same passion for the Youngstown facility that bears his name.
And he’s not too excited with what has transpired regarding Sammarone’s handling of the facility. The mayor has said the city cannot afford to be wrapped up in such a facility. It’s too much of a burden. It needs to be sold or leased.
That, of course, despite the center being a key pillar for downtown’s rebirth. (Hold that thought.)
It’s reasonable to think that Covelli’s $10 million OSU investment could someday be available for Youngstown — if his current passion here remains.
“When we got involved in 2009, we wanted to do something that would be helpful to the [Mahoning] Valley and show support,” said Allen Ryan, Covelli Enterprises’ director of corporate affairs (and no relation to the facility’s boss, Eric Ryan).
“This was Mr. Covelli’s way of helping,” Allen Ryan said. “He believes the money [$535,000] helps give the arena a chance to grow and be successful. If the facility is put into private hands, it would change the main reason Mr. Covelli got involved in the facility in the first place.”
Ryan speaks to the core issue that I think has been missing in the mayor’s Covelli Centre death drum beat.
Yes, the facility is a financial liability to the city in some ways. So are police cars.
But the facility is a financial gain for the city in so many other ways.
The mayor and the cast of critics whispering their loaded agenda into his ear have artfully misrepresented the facility’s true financial impact.
Just Friday, in another news publication, the mayor was linked again to the claim that Covelli costs the city $900,000 per year.
That number is as mythical to the city as its restaurant inspections.
The highest the Covelli interest payment ever became was $818,720 in 2007.
It was as low as $579,925 in 2011.
In that same 2011, the city also made its first principal payment on the $11.9 million loan — about $275,000 — to make for a grand total of $840,000.
All of those numbers are substantial. And ownership opponents, such as the mayor, make the costs look worse when they hyperventilate on them — and do so while not including city revenues from Covelli.
Ticket taxes, income taxes, operational surpluses, downtown businesses’ revenues, etc.
Add all of those up, and there is no $900,000 cost to the city.
Further aggravating is that the mayor did not acknowledge in the Friday news report that this year — in interest and in principal — the city will pay just $413,250 to own the Covelli, and that the facility will make a true, honest profit this year.
He just wants to keep pounding the drum of these mythical costs.
In costs, there are gains.
It’s not just Sam Covelli’s $10 million to OSU that the mayor should measure.
He should add up all the corporate-suite holders and facility sponsors — and their collective revenue and potential downtown investment interest. They, like Covelli, bought into the facility for goodwill more so than for good investment, says Ryan, who believes those groups would, like Covelli, lose interest if the facility was leased to a private group.
“A change now would be a step backward. We invested, and others invested in the arena because it was a way to support the city and the Valley,” Ryan said. “If that changes, that would certainly give us reservations going forward.”
There’s a study due out soon on the facility. It will be interesting to see which reality it shows — Covelli’s reality or the mayor’s reality.
I’ve said that putting Covelli on the market when it is on an up trend is not a bad idea.
But the mayor’s packaging of Covelli as bad for the city is bad salesmanship.
Further, the desperation in his message conveys that it’s a “get-rid-of-this-to-anybody” approach. We had “anybody” when the place first opened, and it was run at a huge loss.
In continuing to participate in stories and opinions that “the Covelli is a $900,000 cost to the city” shows a mayoral stubbornness that has to make you wonder:
Is he viable as a four-year developer of the city which he now is considering, or better being just the two-year whip-cracker that he initially pledged he would be in 2011?
Building up a city is more than tearing down houses and egos.
Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He blogs, too, on vindy.com. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.