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4 wouldn't oppose a split arena grant

Friday, January 23, 2004

Making the grant more flexible could take more time than originally expected.
& lt;a & gt;By ROGER SMITH & lt;/a & gt;
YOUNGSTOWN -- A majority of city council members say they misunderstood a motion Wednesday giving unanimous support to spending $25 million on a downtown arena.
The members say they support building such a facility, but are open to considering other approaches, too.
Among them: using $7 million to have a private company build an arena or spending $8 million to overhaul the Beeghly Center into a convocation center. The balance of the federal grant would be available for downtown improvements.
Artis Gillam Sr., D-1st, proposed the motion at Wednesday's council meeting.
"I would like to know tonight how many of my colleagues, and I'm going to ask for hands, would like to see the convocation center as we are mandated to do," Gillam said, according to an audio tape of the meeting.
Federal legislation says the $25 million can only be spent on a convocation center. A change that would add flexibility to that funding is pending in Washington, but that change hasn't yet occurred.
All seven council members voted in favor of the motion.
Wrong interpretation
At least four members, however, said Thursday they interpreted the motion differently.
The members said they thought the motion was to support only the concept of building an arena -- not necessarily spending all $25 million on the project.
The four members -- Rufus Hudson, D-2nd, Richard Atkinson, R-3rd, Carol Rimedio-Righetti, D-4th, and Michael Rapovy, D-5th -- say they will entertain other approaches, such as using part of the funding for an arena.
Rimedio-Righetti, a new council member, said she should have sought clarification of the motion. The vote happened fast, she said.
"I just was overwhelmed, I guess," she said.
Gillam's reaction
Gillam said he finds it curious each member has the same explanation.
"Somebody's been talking to them," he said, declining to comment further.
Clarence Boles, D-6th, said he knew exactly what he was voting on.
Boles said he wants to explore multiple options. Residents he represents, however, want the city to spend the money on an arena now, Boles said. That's why he voted for Gillam's motion, he said.
Mark S. Memmer, D-7th, couldn't be reached to comment.
Backtracking on a vote happened last year, too.
In June, council members voted to dissolve the city's contract with downtown's redevelopment agency, the Youngstown Central Area Community Improvement Corp.
Members then quickly said they erred in passing the legislation and said they were confused, despite discussion about the issue beforehand.
Senate action
Meanwhile, in Washington, it appears that making the $25 million grant more flexible must travel a rougher road than expected.
Ohio's U.S. Sens. George Voinovich and Mike DeWine were seeking an amendment to give the city flexibility with the money.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development admitted it erred when it said a simple congressional amendment to the legislation was needed.
HUD told DeWine an additional step is needed. The item first must go through the Senate Appropriations Committee, HUD said, then the full Congress.
"It makes it harder. It's going to take longer," said Mike Dawson, a spokesman for DeWine.
He couldn't say how long, however.
At least several months is a good starting point. For example, Congress is just now acting on appropriations that were due four months ago.
Dawson said the senators remain committed to giving the city flexibility in spending the money.