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What next for Covelli?



Published: Sun, September 16, 2012 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Todd Franko (Contact)


“You guys are pitiful.”

Those are tough words from “JohnYoung.”

Whoever he is. He’s among the brave, anonymous messengers on Vindy.com.

He was irate Thursday due to a Vindicator editorial that dismissed the city’s ownership of the Covelli Centre and celebrated Mayor Sammarone’s pursuit of selling or leasing the facility.

JohnYoung agreed with the editorial.

What was pitiful to him (or her) was that on June 5, I wrote a column chiding the mayor for daring to sell or lease the Covelli.

What I wrote then was that I feel in many ways, and know for certain in a few other ways, that the downtown surge the past several years is due to the Covelli Centre. Why would the city trust away that golden egg? They trusted it away once to an outside company, and the place was in shambles after two years.

I know JohnYoung sided with the editorial and not that column because he asked, “What were you smoking, Toddie?” when I called the Covelli “profitable.” (For the record, I prefer “Mr. Toddie.”)

“It is absolutely astonishing how the Vindicator editorial staff talks out of both sides of its mouth,” continued JohnYoung’s messageboard post.

I don’t call it astonishing. I call it beautiful.

Here’s the beauty:

In one leading media outlet in a small city, you get two diverse, distinct opinions over a pivotal community operation.

In the old days of newspapers, and in the not-so-long-ago days of some bigger city newspapers, competing opinions, often in the form of dueling columnists, was commonplace.

So when you see an opinion in one part of our paper differing from an opinion in another part of the paper, consider it great fortune to have diverse opinions in one place.

You do not want a city council or school board voting 7-0 on everything. I hate when those boards that do so then try to sell a populace that 7-0 votes show cohesiveness. No, it shows collusion.

Similarly, you sure don’t want a newspaper always agreeing with itself on key issues. We don’t. We argue plenty internally. We learn from each other, and we also maintain differences. And occasionally, on key differences, it comes out in print.

In the case of the Covelli Centre, we differ greatly, and I am still comfy that my opinion is well-founded.

And all you had to do was read Friday’s Vindicator (for a story that no other Valley media had, by the way. That’s why you subscribe).

In Friday’s Vindicator, it was outlined how, with just one swipe of the pen Wednesday, the city will save $466,000 on its Covelli expenses this year.

The city learned — through a consultant — that it should have been bidding out the annual interest rate on the $11 million it owes on Covelli.

It’s a vital tipping point moment for the Covelli and the facility’s haters and supporters.

Putting the $11 million note out for bid has not been done in the seven-year history of the Covelli. Over those years, the city has paid $5 million in interest payments. The most expensive year was 2007 when the city paid $818,720. Last year, it paid $579,925 in interest, and likely would have paid the same this year.

But with the help of a consultant, the city will pay just $113,250 in interest because the note was put out for bid, and the result was a 1 percent interest rate.

The city’s explaining of the situation was interesting in Friday’s story. Most interesting was the mayor’s explainer. In talking with reporter David Skolnick, he did not want to invest time in exploring why loan bidding hadn’t happened in the arena’s seven-year history — potentially saving the city about $300,000 per year or more. He instead wished to celebrate that it is now done, and efficiency is in place.

Can Capt. Edward Smith own only the beautiful launch of the Titanic? No. He has to own the tail end of that ship’s journey. This is a nice discovery now. But city council is much the same now — and included the mayor — when city officials were signing off on noncompetitive bank rates.

And the Titanic is also representative of the naysayers’ opinions of city ownership of the Covelli:

Their arguments keep sinking, one by one.

Here have been the most prominent naysayer opinions:

1. With Cleveland and Pittsburgh so close, you will never attract top-notch entertainment to come here.

Truth: Elton John, Barry Manilow, Tim McGraw, Sugarland, etc. ... sold out.

2. You will never earn enough money to even pay for operating expenses, let alone the debt on the building.

Truth: That’s been proven wrong for the past two-plus years with operating surpluses. It likely will be shown again this year.

3. The public-owned-and-paid facility owes millions of dollars in back property taxes, according to a flawed state definition.

Truth: Well, that got fixed, er, corrected, er, erased this year, too. It was so flawed, a quickie statehouse bill earned swift bipartisan passage.

4. You will never make enough money to pay the interest, let alone the principal.

Well — a consultant fixed that this week. The 2012 interest was paid for by April.

Had the city and council been focused on the real problems of the city the past couple of years, it might have paid more than $1 million off Covelli’s principal.

The lingering question: What else in city operations will be fixed and yield more savings?

You know, $400,000 here, and $400,000 there — and soon enough, you are talking real money.

I honestly don’t expect this continued string of lost arguments to change the course of the naysayers, though.

Similarly, the Titanic crew stayed on course, too, despite facts laid out to them by their peers just down the ocean a bit.

Covelli foes will continue to find more arguments. I predict one will be:

All the capital costs such a facility requires will squeeze the (yawn again) lack of city funds to handle that.

Here’s that reality: A private firm leasing the place and wanting profits certainly will encounter the same cash/capital issues the city will. Do you think that company is apt to keep sinking dollars into the facility? They will to a point — cheap, easy fixes. Then they will pull out, and the next mayor will own the mess created by the previous mayor — which has been the Covelli’s tale.

The city is a better bet in that area, too, in that a private firm won’t have the goodwill or the nonprofit status (that the city owns) to engender community interest and grants to bolster such a place.

Ironically, JohnYoung was not around the Vindy.com message board for Friday’s story on Covelli’s $466,000 savings.

And if JohnYoung is still struggling over whether to believe me or other Vindy voices, then go downtown.

Ask the restaurants; ask the new building owners; ask the small-business owners: How key is the Covelli in your plan?

When they answer “huge,” then add up the sales taxes, employment taxes and property taxes they generate.

Downtown is the one sure place in the city where restoring and relocating, not demolishing and burning, is happening.

As I said in June, the Covelli is a key reason for that; maybe the lone reason.

Why — with all this momentum, and new money and new efficiency — would you lease that away?

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at tfranko@vindy.com. He blogs, too, on vindy.com.


Comments

1UticaShale(854 comments)posted 2 years ago

You guys created the brave anonymous messengers here on Vindy.com. Make us all unmask ourselves in a fair level battlefield.

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2isaac45(270 comments)posted 2 years ago

right, your battles with phil kidd show you're not willing...pot calling kettle

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3chuck_carney(499 comments)posted 2 years ago

When will the Vindy investigative reporters (and I use that phrase loosely question the Mahoning County Commissioners on their positions cocerning buying the center.

maybe this should be an endeaver of the port Authority since the theory is the Center is a regional asset and improves the quality of life for the entire area

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4UticaShale(854 comments)posted 2 years ago

The Thinker is what we need more of on this site, someone with facts and intelligence and with an understanding of the truth that must be told in Youngstown even it hurts the entitled. Notice Isaac and YBR who contribute nothing to the betterment of the community. These trolls are part of the Occupiers and Hipster class that have most likely suck at the tit of fedup taxpayers. Observe how when Sweetwood or this writer threatens to clean house of these small minds, they jump out crying while throwing mud with halftruths. They can never give an honest debate.
Funny even on Kidds FB many there state clearly that the Vindy needs to require accountability and evict the trolls from this board to enable true debate.
Back to the issue, the thinker has succinctly outlined the public sectors inability to conduct free enterprise and how millions of tax dollars have done nothing for the betterment of downtown except sometimes putting lipstick on a PIG.

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5johnyoung(241 comments)posted 2 years ago

Todd, I'm glad I could provide you with some fodder for your weekly message from the bully pulpit. Lord knows the entire editorial staff at the Vindy needs all the help it can get.

However, you seem to have entirely missed my point. The Vindicator is in a unique position through its editorial comments to not only influence the opinions and attitudes of the public, but to also shape public policy decisions of the rather weak-minded politicians in Youngstown, especially city council members, who are constantly mindful of which way the wind is blowing and how they are percieved by the local media. It is therefore critical that your positions on issues such as the viability of Youngstown's continued operation of the Covelli Centre be based on sound logic. Your June 5 blog in which you touted the Centre as a success was irresponsible and anything but logical. Since the editorial staff has set itself up as the moral shepherd of the community, the "sheep", including the political "sheep" will tend to believe what you print.

I agree with many of "the thinker's" comments, but my analogy was more along the lines of Youngstown acting like a parent going out to buy a new Cadillac when the kids are at home with no shoes. As to the poster who proclaimed that I just got "owned" by Mr. Franko, well my friend, if you can't understand why I'm critical of an editorial calling for continued operation of an entertainment venue by a public entity that consistently fails to deliver basic public services to its citizens, then you are indeed part of the overwhelming problem in this community which is in large part attributable to a basic lack of understanding of governmental functions. Try reading a civics book sometime. The last time I checked, there was no mention of entertainment as part of the health, safety, and welfare of the public. Pure and simple, Youngstown should not be in the entertainment business to the tune of a half a mil per year when the kids are at home with no shoes.

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6toddfranko(99 comments)posted 2 years ago

Kudos to all so far today, even my pal JohnYoung.
It's been pretty sound debate. (Although I could live w/o JY's tax woes in this thread.
Thinker hit a homerun. But like w Bertram and the mayor, I still disagree. I think we agree on the result - a better Yo. It's just how do u get there.
Youngstown - like a good health care debate - cant finance strictly a fix-the-sick mindset. It has to invest in healthy living.
And based on this week's news, the city had to finance a little less of that this year - about $466,000.
And u can chide the tax credits and the like going to assist the "surge." But those same credits and breaks have existed for years, and all downtown got was more plywood. Other cities and developers (Allentown, Royal Oak, Marous bros) used them and have grown while they fixed.
I'm all for demolishing. But you must build at same time.

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7johnyoung(241 comments)posted 2 years ago

Todd:

Just a correction: The tax woes were presented by YBR, not by me. I agree that post was unproductive and somewhat off topic.

I appreciate the spirited debate and your willingness to see both sides of the argument. My comments are truly directed toward the goal of making Youngstown a better place to live and work. Do do so, we must first perfect the basics before moving on to the luxuries such as the Covelli Centre.

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8UticaShale(854 comments)posted 2 years ago

See Todd you were distracted by the Ybr troll ,they exist to throw you off your game. They die when you evict them.

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9UticaShale(854 comments)posted 2 years ago

The Troll Zombies are purveyors of halftruths masking their needs as takers and will distort anything for continuing the rape of taxpayers.

Private investments in apartment buildings downtown? Yeah, as the investor pleads for the extension of a TWO MILLION DOLLAR float loan from the City? How about a $20,000 grant for another CAFE in Youngstown as the Lemon drop teeters on massive debt.

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