Another ‘pledge’ to lure Amazon

SATURDAY MORNING: Taped to the laptop computer on which this column is being written is a Powerball ticket that has three sets of numbers. The jackpot for tonight’s drawing is $173 million. The cash option prize is $109 million.

The lottery ticket has the name “Amazon” on it.

This writer’s pledge of the $109 million to attract the world’s largest online retailer to the Mahoning Valley is inspired by Anthony Cafaro Jr., co-president of the Cafaro Co.

Cafaro has grabbed the attention of the community with his announcement that his family-owned company is pledging land and money to persuade Amazon to choose the Valley as the location for its second headquarters. The Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber and local government officials are fawning all over the local businessman.

Amazon is a Seattle, Wash.-based, company.

The Cafaro Co., headquartered in its Eastwood Mall complex in Niles, is one of the leading shopping center developers in the nation. The company owns Enterprise Park and is willing to sell the 105-acre greenfield site to Amazon for $1. It also is offering $20 million in seed money for site preparation, construction and other development needs.

Such a magnanimous gesture cannot go unheralded.

After all, the Cafaro name has been in the news for the past several years – but not in a good way.

That’s because Anthony M. Cafaro Sr., the retired president of the company, was embroiled in the highly publicized Oakhill Renaissance Place criminal conspiracy.


Cafaro Sr. is described in court documents as the mastermind of the conspiracy to block Mahoning County government from buying the former Southside Medical Center complex.

The Amazon project is a chance for the Cafaro family to burnish its reputation.

Although the front-page story today about the Valley’s courtship confirms what many knowledgeable individuals have said from the outset – landing Amazon is a long shot – Cafaro Jr. is undaunted.

“I don’t think that anybody should go into any potential business transaction or anything of this nature thinking you can’t win,” he told The Vindicator.

Those inspiring words are the reason this writer is willing to give the $109 million in Powerball winnings to Amazon. (The drawing was late Saturday night – past the deadline for this column.)

But what if the nine-figure offer of help is not enough? Here are some other options that could sway the decision-makers in Seattle:

Downtown Youngstown. Mayor McNally should let Amazon know he’s willing to hand over the Covelli Center, the amphitheater (soon to be constructed), all the city-owned property along the Mahoning River and even the Youngstown City Hall Annex. He should also promise to rename the section of the Mahoning River within the city boundaries. “The Little Amazon” has a nice ring to it.

A selling point for the mayor would be the city’s experienced, very creative deal-maker, David Bozanich.

Bozanich, who has been the finance director for many years, has been recognized for his public service by being prominently mentioned in the criminal indictment of widely hailed downtown Youngstown developer Dominic Marchi-onda.

If that isn’t enough to wet Amazon’s whistle, there’s always Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley Race Course in Austintown.

The horse-racing track and slots casino is owned by Penn National Gaming of Wyomissing, Pa.

For a piece of the action, Penn National could agree to sell all its property in Austintown to Amazon for $1. There’s a lot of cleared land that could be transformed into the site of HQ2.

Indeed, Penn National could offer to operate the horse track so the 50,000 Amazon employees would have a place to spend their money, just like the good old days of steel-making when bookies waited outside the factory gates for their “customers.”

But if that fails to sway Amazon, there’s an ace in the hole: General Motors’ Lordstown assembly complex.

Think about it. GM is having convulsions over the future of the assembly and fabricating plants in the Valley. The Chevrolet Cruze that’s made in Lordstown isn’t meeting sales targets, prompting the company to eliminate the third shift and halt car production for weeks.

While GM has been touting its truck and SUV models, the company has been disturbingly quiet about the future of the Cruze, at one time the best-selling compact car in the country.

So, to all you nattering nabobs of negativity, this region has just as good a chance as any other parts of the country of landing Amazon’s HQ2.

After all, the chamber, in partnership with the commissioners from Mahoning and Trumbull counties and the mayors of Youngstown and Warren submitted the Cafaro Co.’s Enterprise Park at Eastwood to Amazon for consideration.

They obviously were inspired by Anthony Cafaro Jr.’s positive outlook, as was this writer.

Oops. There’s a second part to the statement Cafaro made to The Vindicator. Here’s what it says:

“We never want to have a defeatist attitude, but I think practically this area and the site itself is challenged from the standpoint of the specific requirements that Amazon has set forth.”

Say what?

It should be clear by now the column was written with all the sarcasm this otherwise very positive, glass half-full, sun-will-come-out-tomorrow, put-on-a-happy-face writer could muster.

The odds of Anthony Cafaro Jr. actually having to hand over the land and $20 million to Amazon are even worse than this writer’s hitting the Powerball. Amazon isn’t coming to the Mahoning Valley.

Even so, the sun will come out tomorrow. Unfortunately, it will be blocked by the dark clouds of reality.

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