Officials to vote on mall reinvestment area
YOUNGSTOWN — Mahoning County commissioners Thursday are expected to vote on creating a Community Reinvestment Area agreement at the Southern Park Mall, which would provide a 100 percent real property tax exemption on new construction for 15 years.
The CRA will encompass all of the commercial property at the mall, Commissioner Carol Rimedio-Righetti said. The meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday at the Boardman Township Government Center, 8299 Market St., Boardman.
In return for tax abatements worth $6 million over the course of the agreement, mall operator Washington Prime plans $30 million in investments. In December, the Boardman school board unanimously approved the CRA language.
“This is the most positive thing we have going on around here,” Rimedio-Righetti said. “We need new things in the area; we need a green space for young people, and people my age, to come hang out and spend time, to grab a coffee and walk around.”
In the 1970s, the late Ralph Mentzer, well-respected planner with the Mahoning County Planning Commission, developed a plan that embodies some of the project’s design elements, Rimedio-Righetti said.
“He had a vision about this, something with indoor / outdoor shopping, with green spaces and little bars and grills and coffee shops, with apartments for people to live in. But the malls in the area were starting up and becoming established, and his vision died with the mall. But now that the traditional mall is struggling, this is the perfect time to recreate this vision for Boardman. We need something new,” Rimedio-Righetti said.
She said the area has the potential to be as popular and eye-catching as Easton Town Center and Polaris Towne Center — large, campus-like retail and entertainment areas just north of Columbus and situated about 12 miles apart. Shopping centers that embrace the newly emerging model are the wave of the future, Rimedio-Righetti said.
Ahead of the vote for the DeBartolo Commons project, however, a Boardman resident is questioning if the recipient qualifies for the relief.
Carl Rafoth, an attorney with Friedman and Rummell Co. in Youngstown, said if he is interpreting Ohio Revised Code appropriately, Washington Prime Group may not be qualified abatement recipients. The code, he said, indicates there must be an area nearby where housing facilities or structures are located “with historical significance.” Looking at the application, Rafoth said he didn’t see historical structures mentioned.
A Washington Prime Group spokeswoman on Tuesday said company representatives will be at the commissioners meeting.
Rafoth, along with a dozen other Boardman residents, have gathered informally and “spontaneously” he said, discussing the abatement proposal.
“I personally don’t have an objection to anyone trying to enhance and improve an area,” he said. “The problem I have is the tax relief they’re looking for that consists of a significant amount” of real estate taxes.
Rafoth would prefer Washington Prime do the project without abatements. The concern comes from the possibility that if the new vision for the mall were to fail, the burden of the tax incentives could be left to residents.
He also has concern with the community entertainment district that was unanimously approved in December by Boardman Township trustees, saying the measure gives Washington Prime the ability to unfairly compete with other establishments that sell alcohol and may not have benefited from abatements themselves.
During the December trustees meeting, Boardman officials explained that creating the entertainment district doesn’t give liquor permits, but rather allows Washington Prime to pursue state licensure.
At that meeting, Trustee Larry Moliterno said: “This is a lot more about saving jobs, creating new jobs and improving our property values, and helping prevent an increase of property taxes” if the mall should close, Moliterno said.
Construction is anticipated to begin in the spring with completion in the fall in time for the mall’s 50th anniversary.