Last fall, with members of the Western Reserve Port Authority board embroiled in a battle over the continued employment of Executive Director Rose Ann DeLeon, we warned that the public entity was in danger of becoming a national embarrassment.
Fortunately, commonsense prevailed, no blood was spilled and the port authority, with DeLeon at the helm, has been building an impressive record.
Topping the list is the agreement with Penn National Gaming that provides $60 million in bonds to the international entertainment company that is constructing a $125 million thoroughbred horse-racing track and slots casino in Austintown.
In return for the financing, the authority will have a 10-year ownership of the buildings that will house the Hollywood Slots at Mahoning Valley Race Course.
“When we made the agreement, we looked at the economic impact of the company in terms of jobs first and foremost, not really what the company does,” DeLeon told The Vindicator.
To be sure, some Mahoning Valley residents will object to the port authority having a business relationship with a gaming company. But the fact remains that casino-style gambling is legal in Ohio, and that the state is a participant in the establishment of racetracks and casinos.
Revenue is flowing into government coffers, and communities that have casinos or racinos are benefitting from the jobs created.
In Austintown, Penn National expects to have 1,000 permanent jobs when Hollywood Slots at Mahoning Valley Race Course opens for business next year. Meanwhile, 800 to 1,000 jobs are on tap during the construction phase.
The WRPA’s agreement with Penn National will result in the company saving about $3 million in sales taxes.
It is noteworthy that most of the sales tax would have gone to the state of Ohio.
Local governments that are still reeling from the major cuts in state funding — the Local Government Fund used by county, city, township and villages has been slashed by more than $1 billion since 2011 — should feel good about the state getting a taste of its own medicine.
Of course, $3 million is a mere drop in the bucket when measured against the amount of money Republican Gov. John Kasich and the GOP-controlled General Assembly have taken away from local governments and school districts.
The Western Reserve Port Authority’s deal with Penn National comes on the heels of the agency receiving a $600,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It is only one of four awarded in Ohio and will be used to conduct brownfield inventory of about 15 sites encompassing 200 acres. The sites include the former Delphi complex in north Warren, areas along the Mahoning River Corridor and the Golden Triangle along Bronze, Dietz and Griswold streets in Warren.
All have been severely impacted by plant closings.
Executive Director DeLeon and Senior Manager for Economic Development Sarah Lown deserve credit for the Brownfield Assessment Coalition Grant coming to the area.
The decision by the authority’s board to extend DeLeon’s employment contract until Dec. 31, 2014, seems to be paying dividends.