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YOUNGSTOWN Revision would shrink center

Thursday, March 13, 2003

The size of the conference center is a reflection of what the market will bear.
YOUNGSTOWN -- A preliminary feasibility study says a combined hotel and scaled-down conference center costing $9.5 million should be built next to an arena downtown.
A proposed 11,000-square-foot conference center within a hotel is about two-thirds smaller than a stand-alone building proposed in the fall. The 30,000-square-foot floor of the arena would provide large exhibition space, according to a second study.
Beyond the scaled-back conference center, the studies reveal little else different from plans offered to date for the proposed downtown civic center project.
Mayor George M. McKelvey said he is encouraged the study shows there is a market for a hotel and conference space. He isn't concerned that the study recommends a downsized conference center.
McKelvey stressed that the studies aren't final and that the project is far from done.
Financial details to be available next week should give a better indication of the proposed project's chances, he said.
Financing gaps or an unfavorable lending market because of war against Iraq are among the possible obstacles, he said. The city remains committed to contributing only the $26.8 million federal grant in hand toward the project, he said.
Coming up
The studies and financial information to come will be refined as the process moves toward a May 15 deadline, McKelvey said.
Also due soon are reports including a site plan, architectural drawings, project costs, funding sources and operational costs. Some of the information is overdue by a few weeks.
The city, however, remains on pace to reach a contract with the developer, FaulknerUSA, by that date, McKelvey said.
The city commissioned the two studies. FaulknerUSA agreed to use the results for negotiating purposes, said Law Director John McNally IV.
HVS International conducted the hotel study. The firm does hospitality market studies and feasibility reports around the world.
Global Spectrum, a FaulknerUSA partner, and Compass Facility Management, the city's consultant, prepared the arena report.
The document mostly is a discussion of differences in financial projections between Global and Compass. Previous studies already have established a 6,000- to 7,000-seat arena feasibility, McNally said.
The hotel-conference center study's overriding theme is that the project is feasible because Youngstown is a market that isn't being served by such a facility.
The hotel study targets a Jan. 1, 2005, opening date.
Other details
The 150-room Marriott or Hilton Hotel would have a restaurant and lounge and about 200 parking spaces. With 150 rooms, the hotel would roughly be the size of the Boardman or Liberty Holiday Inn hotels. The study projects room rates at $98 per night in 2002 dollars. That's projected to rise to $107 a night by 2007.
The building would use about 8.3 acres of the 26 acres the city is preparing to buy between the Market Street and South Avenue bridges. The study says designers are drawing the hotel as a square building.
The study says the development team is designing the project to be close to the Market and Front Street intersection. Previous proposals showed the project closer to the Mahoning River.
Traffic access would be from Front Street with a road leading to the hotel.
Local and statewide groups would be the target market to use the hotel and conference space, the study says.
The consultant surveyed the Ohio Society of Association Executives about their needs and a possible Youngstown facility. Planners expressed an interest in the city as a destination, but also had concerns about a negative perception of the city.