Whether it’s a hockey team affiliated with the CHL, ECHL, USHL, NHL or whatever the ‘L’, turning a profit at the Youngstown-owned Chevrolet Centre is a challenge. That’s because hockey isn’t in the Mahoning Valley’s sports DNA.
Thus, the question Youngstown residents (the opinions of suburbanites don’t really count) are asking: At a time of imploding city government budgets — a $3 million shortfall in the general fund this fiscal year is very much a possibility — is spending on the sports/entertainment center a priority?
Indeed, $600,000 a year is already being drained from the general fund to pay the interest only on the $12 million city government borrowed to finance its share of the $45 million project cost. (When former Mayor George M. McKelvey publicly pledged that not one dime of general fund money would go toward the arena, he was telling the truth. It isn’t one dime, it’s many, many, many dimes.)
If the city were flush financially, if most of the residents were income-tax payers and weren’t retired or on welfare, and if police officers were not in danger of being laid off, funneling public dollars into the Chevy Centre wouldn’t be a problem.
But in a city where homicides and other serious crimes are regular occurrences and where once stable neighborhoods are now dotted with boarded up houses, the arena is a luxury.
As city government finalizes negotiations for a USHL team to play at the center, the question of who will cover any operational deficits is worthy of discussion.
And, as part of the discussion, the issue of a countywide tax dedicated to the Chevy Centre must be broached — especially by suburbanites who are convinced that hockey can become a popular sport in this football region.
While quality of life is important for the viability of a community, in a city like Youngstown protecting life must take precedence.
Establishing spending priorities in the midst of a budget crisis requires decision-makers to put residents’ safety before all else.