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Clock ticking loudly for Idora Park owners

Sunday, March 11, 2001

No one should be surprised that the former Idora Park ballroom burned to the ground. The owners of the park, Mount Calvary Pentecostal Church, received numerous warnings from Youngstown city officials last year that the structure was a disaster waiting to happen.
But more noteworthy, Mount Calvary received numerous breaks from City Hall, including the dismissal of 44 of 47 violations in December 1999.
Yet the owners of the property continued to treat the dilapidation of Idora Park with a couldn't-care-less attitude.
Monday's fire that destroyed the Youngstown landmark was predicted by the city's demolition director, Mike Damiano, who was forced last year to issue two more citations because the ballroom had not been boarded up properly and because the park itself was not secured. And it was predicted by Youngstown police officers who discovered signs of open burning inside and outside the ballroom.
Slum landlord: As we said in an editorial last April, patience isn't a virtue when public safety is at stake. We called for city government to deal with the owners of Idora Park as it would any other slum landlord. And we said there should be no leniency just because a church owned the property.
But it isn't only the fire that should have the city up in arms and exploring legal action against Mount Calvary. The ballroom contained 24,000 square feet of asbestos ceiling material that is now in the debris.
Inhaling asbestos fibers can be hazardous to a person's health. That is why there are federal and state regulations that govern the removal of the asbestos.
Damiano is absolutely right in setting an April 1 deadline for the church to begin cleaning up the property. The demolition director's order should be supplemented by a letter from Law Director Robert Bush informing Mount Calvary that it will be billed for all of the additional work fire crews and other city workers have had to do to ensure that the fire was contained and that the debris was kept wet to prevent the asbestos from becoming airborne.
In addition, Mayor George M. McKelvey and city council should make it clear that no taxpayer money will be used to help the owners pay for the clean-up and the special removal of the asbestos.
Attitude: The responsibility for what occurred Monday at Idora Park is Mount Calvary's alone. The city has bent over backwards to accommodate the church because of its religious underpinnings and its plans to develop the park into the City of God. Well intended as they may have been, the owners must still be held to account for their care-less attitude.
Mount Calvary has owned the park since 1985, and there is no reason to believe that its development plans will become a reality any time soon.
Therefore, the city must do all it can to prevent another fire at Idora Park. That means ordering Mount Calvary to erect a fence that would keep unauthorized persons out and having round-the-clock security as long as remaining structures pose a danger.
Youngstown Councilman Michael Rapovy, D-5th, in whose ward the park is located, recently articulated the fears of many area residents.
"If that Wildcat were to catch fire right now, with the woods right next door to it in Mill Creek Park, we'll have a loss that we've never seen before in Youngstown," Rapovy said.
Those words should serve as a warning to Mount Calvary.