City gives Chill-Can property owner 60 days to open
Chill-Can property owners given 60 days
YOUNGSTOWN — City officials said they are tired of the empty promises by the dormant Chill-Can project’s developer and are giving him fewer than 60 days to fulfill his obligations or they’ll see him in court.
Mayor Jamael Tito Brown and Law Director Jeff Limbian said at a Wednesday news conference that a letter was sent Friday to Mitchell Joseph, CEO of M.J. Joseph Development Corp., which owns the Chill-Can plant site, telling him to construct a number of buildings and hire about 150 workers within 60 days or the city will file a lawsuit. Limbian said someone at M.J. Joseph signed Monday for the certified letter.
The lawsuit could seek to get back $1.5 million in water and wastewater funds given to Joseph’s company, as well as repeal a 10-year tax abatement that’s already in its fourth year and about $400,000 the city paid to purchase properties on the East Side for the project, Brown said. Also, the city may seek to take ownership of the Chill-Can site, he said.
Brown said: “If they can produce the jobs for the residents of the city of Youngstown, I’m open to it. But I can’t continue to hear the same story over and over and over and not get the results. I need the results.”
Brown and Limbian weren’t optimistic that Joseph would meet the deadline.
“It’s still the hope that eventually the cans that chill on their own come out of that facility although that seems highly unlikely at this point,” Limbian said. “We hope given the parameters of the agreement that Mr. Joseph shows us that he means business and not just rhetoric and that he’ll make good on his promises. Unfortunately, today that hasn’t happened.”
Joseph couldn’t be reached to comment Wednesday.
During the last communication he had with this newspaper, Joseph said in August that the third building was finished and “we are still in a position of waiting to make (a major) announcement based upon delays with us and a Fortune 100 company centered around the COVID-19 (pandemic). I will keep you updated, but we are working as fast as possible. We anticipate moving equipment sometime (during the) end of September and October into building 1.”
The Irvine, Calif.-based company announced in October 2020 that it had developed self-contained cooling technology for the packaged food industry as well as beverages.
City officials had discussions with Joseph every one or two weeks for several months with the last conversation about three to four weeks ago, Brown and Limbian said.
Numerous benchmarks for the project, with a November 2016 groundbreaking, haven’t been met.
The agreement with the city called for the hiring of 237 people by Nov. 1, 2022, including 150 by now.
M.J. Joseph Development has hired two people for the facility that sits vacant and largely undeveloped, according to city officials.
The company has put up three buildings on the site, but the plant is far from developed.
Joseph is a Youngstown native and fourth-generation Joseph family member in the beverage industry. The East Side site is the same location where his great-grandfather founded and operated Star Bottling Co. from 1921 to 1970.
Joseph previously had said the project would cost about $18.8 million and be in full operation by 2018 to produce the world’s only self-chilling beverage can. The can allows a drink to be chilled in less than a minute by turning a knob on its bottom.
City records show Joseph has spent about $3.8 million.
By Oct. 1, 2017, the company was supposed to have constructed a warehouse building, bottling facility and plastics facility. Those haven’t been done.
“It’s time to produce,” Brown said.
In addition to the $1.5 million in water and wastewater grants, the city also took possession of about 15 properties at and near the site from landowners at a cost of about $400,000 and gave the company a 10-year, 75-percent real property tax abatement.
The company already has received four years worth of abatements, worth about $125,000, according to city records.
The city will review whether to repeal the abatement, Nikki Posterli, the mayor’s chief of staff and head of the community planning and economic development department, said.
“Failure to cure these defaults could result in litigation and demand by the city for repayment of the grand funds provided for this project,” wrote Joseph M. Houser, an attorney retained by the city, in the letter to Joseph.
Brown said people are interested in developing the property, but until the city gets the land it’s too early to consider any of them.
Asked if the announcement was politically motivated with the Democratic primary on May 4, Brown said: “I wanted to initiate this months ago and I was advised by my legal team, ‘Let’s talk to his attorneys, let’s talk to the legal.’ But everything happens for a reason.”
He added: “This is not political for me,” and that he wanted to do this last summer.
Limbian confirmed Brown’s statements.
“Given the tenor of the last conversation we had with Mr. Joseph on Zoom, it became apparent it’s a lot of hot air and not a lot of product,” Limbian said. “It’s time to move and it had nothing to do with the election.”
But Brown’s Democratic primary challengers, Julius Oliver and Ryan Kelly, disagree.
Oliver, the councilman from 1st Ward, which includes the Chill-Can property, said this process should have been done “a long time ago,” though he added he didn’t know if the mayor had to wait for a legal reason.
“Everything the mayor is doing right now is politically motivated,” Oliver said. “The Chill-Can is a hot topic. It’s a question I’m getting and I’m sure it’s something he’s been asked. It’s my ward and he hasn’t communicated with me. Why hold a press conference a month before the election?”
Kelly said Brown is “doing this because the election is a month away. It’s playing a factor in what he’s doing lately. Mitchell Joseph had a deadline and the city should have held him accountable to meet it. It shouldn’t have gotten this far.”