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City drops threat to sue because of plaza project

By Ian Hill

Friday, April 11, 2003

The governor's representative has a positive feeling about the $500,000.
& lt;a & gt;By IAN HILL & lt;/a & gt;
YOUNGSTOWN -- The city has dropped a threat to sue the state over the Issue 2 funding process in Mahoning and Trumbull counties.
Mayor George M. McKelvey wrote in a letter Tuesday that it would be "inappropriate" for the city to sue while seeking state funds for the Federal Street reconstruction project. The letter was to W. Laurence Bicking, director of the Ohio Public Works Commission.
McKelvey wrote that the city has been "aggressively" working with the Ohio Department of Development to obtain funding for the project. The city is seeking $500,000.
"Since the Federal Street project is vital to the city's potential economic development, job retention, and overall viability, it is one of the city's highest priority projects," McKelvey wrote.
Julie Michael Smith, the governor's regional representative with the development office, expects to have an answer on the city's request within a week. She said she was feeling "positive" about the Federal Street project.
Support for project
Downtown landlords, business owners and the redevelopment agency, the Youngstown Central Area Community Improvement Corp., have expressed support for the project, she said.
"It's obviously very important to the city and community," Smith said.
In February, a local committee overseen by the public works commission decided that the Federal Street project was not eligible for Issue 2 funding this year. The $2.8 million project would remove the pedestrian plaza and reopen Federal, downtown's main street, to traffic.
The street was closed to vehicle traffic in the 1970s to create a pedestrian walkway and improve the downtown's appearance. Critics charged, however, that cutting off cars from downtown businesses ended up keeping customers away and luring them to suburban malls and plazas.
City officials asked for $946,000 in Issue 2 money as matching funds for a $2.08 million federal grant for the project.
Threatened to sue
City officials threatened to sue when the local committee decided the project wasn't eligible. They argued that the funding process was flawed. They expressed their objections to the process to Bicking.
He overruled their appeal.
Thursday, Bicking said he was pleased the city would look for other money for the project.
"I know it's important to them," he said.
McKelvey has talked about pulling needed money from the city's $6.6 million federal grant for 2003-04. He couldn't be reached to comment.
The city just started considering that possibility, said Jay Williams, director of the Community Development Agency. CDA administers the city's federal money. It's unclear if using the federal money would be legal, he said.
The point may be moot even if the state comes up with the $500,000. CDA doesn't have the other $446,000 readily available. Freeing up such money for Federal Street would mean deep cuts in other CDA funded programs.
A drop in federal funding and higher costs in 2003-04 leave CDA straining to meet its mission, Williams told city council members this week. A council committee is recommending only 13 of 54 city departments or social service agencies for funding. Dozens of agencies, especially in social services, received such money in past years.