Civic center project finalists say building design is first

Each company talked about ways to avoid sticking the city with any financial shortfalls.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Finalists for the job of project manager for the proposed downtown civic center have different strengths.
The companies agree, however, on one thing: planners need to decide what the building will be before anything else happens. Compass Facility Management Inc. of Ames, Iowa, and the Gateway Group of Cleveland each told that to the civic center board Thursday.
There was only a little talk about an idea that emerged in recent weeks: A private developer would put up an arena, and most of the $26.8 million secured for the project so far would be spent on other development. Instead, the focus was on an arena centering on the money in hand.
Tenants can't be secured until a vision is outlined and architects can't start until potential tenants are identified, the companies said. Tenants should be closely involved in the design anyway, they said, to hold down costs.
"Design ought to follow function," said Steven L. Peters, Compass president. "Every decision [ultimately] is a marketing decision."
Need direction: Leonard Schiavone, the board chairman, acknowledged that the project manager first will have to lead the board toward a concept of the building. "We need people who can direct us to make that determination," he said.
Each company spent nearly two hours explaining its background, how it would direct the project and answering questions. Each said their company has led civic center projects from concept to completion. Each also has played lesser roles in a variety of arenas, stadiums and convention centers.
Schiavone sized up the two companies this way:
UCompass seems strongest at working in smaller markets such as Youngstown and managing buildings once they're built, and could effectively oversee this project.
UGateway seems to have a strong grasp on financing and experience with a variety of different projects, and could effectively oversee this project, too.
The challenge is finding a way to blend the strengths of both, he said.
City's support: Board members William Binning, Gil Peterson and Charles P. Sammarone stressed that the project can't be one in which the city subsidizes any financial shortfall.
Peters said most arenas need ongoing financial support for operations, but that can be avoided. Money from selling naming rights, corporate suites and advertising can be set aside, rather than spent on construction, he said. Most projects don't do that, Peters said, which is a bad idea.
Gateway sees the issue differently, said Tom Chema, the company's principal. Deals that work well give anchor tenants all the arena's revenue and all the responsibility for operations and maintenance, he said. The anchors also pay rent to the city, Chema said. The setup is simpler than having a separate management company, which also needs to be paid its fee, he said.
Board members seemed equally impressed with the two candidates. They spent about a half-hour behind closed doors debating the merits of each. They didn't make a decision on what to do next. Nobody will be hired until the city and the civic center board agree to a contract.
Chema already is part of the project, having done the site selection study for the city. Council picked the site between the Market Street and South Avenue bridges.
Applicants: There were seven applications for project manager position. A third finalist, Michael Craig Enoch, has dropped out. He is director of the $17 million, 3,000-seat Cox Pavilion at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.
There was talk about the fee each company proposes to charge for its work, though the numbers weren't revealed.