By David Skolnick
A downtown property development agency is ready to open a new parking lot where the Paramount Theatre once stood, but work won’t be done for at least another month.
As part of a deal with the city, the Youngstown Central Area Community Improvement Corp. was to start a 20-year lease for $100 a year on or before June 1 for the converted parking lot on the corner of West Federal and Hazel streets.
But the lot doesn’t have power because of an electrical problem that FirstEnergy is resolving, and a landscaping project for the West Federal side hasn’t started.
“We’re uncertain when it will get done, but we hope it will be by July 1,” said Dave Kosec, CIC’s project manager.
That won’t happen.
Proposals for the landscaping project are to be submitted to the city by July 3, said Charles Shasho, deputy director of public works.
That project has a budget of about $25,000, and will include seating with tables, a fence, and likely some portions of the former theater that were removed before demolition started in July 2013, he said. If materials from the building can’t be included in the design, the city would place a plaque there honoring the theater, he said.
“That landscaped area will be a big focal point for downtown,” Shasho said. “We’re trying to bring that to a close, but we want something that looks good. It should be done by July.”
The Paramount project has been plagued by delays. The work originally was to be done in September 2013, and then moved back another two months. But work to the 24-vehicle lot project was delayed to the point that it wasn’t paved and striped until about a month ago.
The CIC is getting the Paramount lot in exchange for the city buying the agency’s Kress Building property, also on West Federal Street next to the 7th District Court of Appeals, after it’s demolished.
Demolition is expected to be done in early to mid-July, Kosec said. The deal calls for Youngstown to pay $500,000 to the CIC for the Kress property and convert it into a parking lot for water customers to pay bills at city hall during the day. The lot is expected to be available to those coming downtown after work hours and on weekends.
The CIC discussed the Kress demolition at its Wednesday meeting. Since about 2006, the agency meets about three to four times a year. But the meetings have flown under the radar for a number of years as the CIC hasn’t contacted the media in about six years about its meetings.
It didn’t send a media advisory for Wednesday’s meeting either, but The Vindicator learned about it, and a reporter attended.
The CIC drastically changed how it operates in December 2005 as it reduced the number of undeveloped downtown properties it owned. At that time, it voted to no longer serve as the city’s exclusive downtown economic agent and eliminate its city appointees.
Those changes allowed CIC to not be considered a public body or to follow state laws that oversee public entities, said Ed Romero, its legal counsel.
The CIC doesn’t have to open its meetings to the public or follow state laws that oversee public entities. However, the board said at that time that it would continue to keep its meetings open, and notify the media of its meetings. It did that for a couple of years.
Though the press was permitted to attend Wednesday’s meeting, Thomas Humphries, president and chief executive officer for the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber who serves as head of the CIC, didn’t let two members of the public into the meeting.
Jacob Harver, who operates the downtown Knox Building, said Humphries told him the meeting was for members and the media only, and wouldn’t let him or Nick Chretien, an intern with the NYO Property Group, inside.
Though CIC isn’t considered a public body, Romero said, members of the public should be allowed to attend.
When told that two people weren’t permitted to be at the meeting, Romero said, “That’s a bit disconcerting.”