Published July 14, 2008
Two of the most prominent black residents of the Mahoning Valley are embroiled in a very public battle over the Chevrolet Centre in downtown Youngstown and unless Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams and Valley businessman Herb Washington resolve their differences, their fight could spill over into next year's mayoral election.
Williams' first term in office ends in December 2009 and there's every reason to believe that he'll seek another four-year term. But if Washington's anger over what he perceives is mistreatment by the city has not eased by next year, he could figure prominently in the election.
What can be done to help the mayor and the owner of the SteelHounds hockey team and numerous McDonald's restaurants bury the hatchet? Williams should bring back the community board that was formed when then Congressman James A. Traficant Jr. secured a $26.8 million federal grant for what he called a convocation center.
Traficant did not trust city government officials to properly manage the money or the project, which is why he insisted on community involvement. But some members of council at the time were not happy that contracts and subcontracts would be let without their input, so when Traficant became distracted with his legal problems, they disbanded the board.
But given the numerous problems associated with the Chevrolet Centre, foremost of which is that it is a money-loser and the city is on the hook for a $12 million loan it secured to help pay for the construction of the $45 million arena, the resurrection of the panel is justified and necessary.
The composition could replicate the original one and the assignment could be broad enough to include playing peacemaker in the Wiliams-Washington battle.
Community input offers the best hope for the Chevrolet Centre's becoming a financially viable entity.