Monday, April 08, 2013

Mayor Held Provides Millions of Dollars for Developers but Only Lip Service to North Canton YMCA

Prepared Comments Made to


April 8, 2013 

            The Cleveland Plain Dealer ran a story on January 28, 2008, titled, “Developer Stuart Lichter closes purchase of Hoover property.” The first paragraph of the news article states, “California developer Stuart Lichter swept up the vacant Hoover Co. campus at a bargain price Monday – paying $5 million for a property that, when occupied, might have fetched four times that. And the value’s likely to rise. Lichter and his business partners plan to turn the aging 1.4 million-square-foot property into a complex of homes, offices, manufacturers, neighborhood shops and restaurants and - possibly – a small hotel.” 

            Stuart Lichter laid out this vision of redevelopment for the Hoover property, and for a community such as ours that lost its identity and thousands of jobs, it certainly sounded like all of our prayers had been answered.  

In spite of the fact that Mr. Lichter is a multi-millionaire who surely has the resources to make his vision for the Hoover property a reality, he has asked our struggling community and the State of Ohio for millions of dollars in financial assistance.  

A recap of that financial assistance includes $440,000 for gantry cranes to bring Meyers Controlled Power from Massillon to North Canton and approximately $65,000 made available to outfit and relocate space for Stark State to the Hoover District. 

            Totaling $505,000, this is money that came directly from city coffers to Mr. Lichter and local partners, Chris Semarjian and Bob DeHoff, collectively known as Maple Street Commerce. 

            In 2009, the City of North Canton secured a $5.0 million grant from the State of Ohio. Three million dollars of the grant was to be made available to Maple Street Commerce to allow for the conversion of industrial space to office space for the Shroer Group. The remaining $2.0 million was to be spent on city streets and utilities in the surrounding Hoover District. 

            Two weeks ago I learned that the Held Administration had applied to the State of Ohio to divert half of the remaining grant funds away from the planned expenditures for city streets and utilities and provide an additional $1.0 million to the developer. In discussions with three city council members that night, I learned that none of them had any knowledge of the actions of the administration to divert additional grant funds. At last week’s council meeting it was clear that city council had been left totally in the dark as to the Held administration’s efforts to reallocate grant funds.  

            A records request has revealed that the Held administration had asked state officials in a letter dated September 26, 2012, to reallocate the balance of the grant funds. On October 25, 2012, Mayor Held executed an amendment to the Grant Agreement which was finalized in a November 6, 2012, letter from the Ohio Development Services Agency to Development Director Bowles.  

            Mayor Held, when City Council authorized Economic Development Director Eric Bowles to fill the role of Project Manager in Ordinance No. 56-09 on June 22, 2009, I do not believe that they expected to be left uniformed as to the expenditure of those funds. Why the secrecy, Mayor? 

            Was it your idea of an April Fool’s joke at to reveal at last week’s council meeting, what you have known for five months, that your Economic Development Director had applied to State officials and been approved to reallocate grant funds that council thought were going to be used for city streets and utility work? 

And further, to tell this council that these remaining funds must be spent by the end of September of this year, a mere five months away?  

Mayor Held, your actions to withhold information regarding your efforts to reallocate distribution of the grant funds and then revealing at the eleventh hour to council that the funds must be spent with undue haste are entirely underhanded and raise alarm for me and I suspect others.   

Why have you not kept city council informed? Why have you let the clock nearly run out to tell city council that the remaining grant funds must be spent in the next five months? 

The actions of the Held Administration bring about urgency on another issue that I have been raising privately ever since the Hoover property was purchased by Stuart Lichter.  

The urgency is that the North Canton YMCA needs more room for future growth and further financial assistance to the developers of the Hoover District should be contingent on cooperation on this issue.  

The YMCA needs the two parking lots that front on East Maple Street and lie east and west of McKinley Avenue. Furthermore, if the remaining portions of McKinley Avenue that dead end at East Maple are vacated, the value of these two parking lots to the YMCA will be greatly enhanced. 

Mayor Held, I am asking that you provide no further financial assistance to Stuart Lichter and Maple Street Commerce, including the reallocated $1.0 million in grant funds yet to be spent, until Stuart Lichter and Maple Street Commerce deeds over both parking lots in their entirety to the YMCA. 

The City of North Canton has already provided the developers $3,505,000 in financial assistance. This is far more than the value of the two parking lots. The additional $1.0 million that you now propose to divert to the developers will raise the level of public monies given to Stuart Lichter to nearly equal the purchase price Mr. Lichter paid for the entire 78 acre Hoover property.  

Mayor, the recent ceremony in city council chambers in February when you proclaimed February 19, 2013, as North Canton YMCA Day in honor of the Y’s 90th anniversary isn’t worth the paper it is printed on if you don’t take meaningful action to ensure its future growth.  

The North Canton YMCA needs more than “lip service” to be successful for another ninety years. This added acreage is very critical to the future success of the North Canton YMCA. 

City Council, I ask that you take action to block any further distribution of grant funds should Mayor Held not have the wherewithal to do what is best for the North Canton YMCA and the citizens he has sworn to serve.

Thank you,
Chuck Osborne
City of North Canton