Changing fortunes and politics

If a $1 million wager were placed last year about the news on The Vindy’s Thursday front page happening – I’m not sure anyone would have taken that bet.

Thursday’s front page showed two things deemed unfathomable in 2016:

Covelli Centre boss Eric Ryan was having to explain his operations and his value to Youngstown City Council and was offered a meager $1,000 per month wage to bring success to a new $9 million, 3,200-seat amphitheater downtown project.

Mill Creek MetroParks boss Aaron Young was offered a three-year contract extension with raises of 5, 3 and 3 percent for those years.

In 2016, there were two directions those two men and their entities were headed – and it was opposite of what the Thursday news stories reported.

The Young issue is easiest to tackle.

He’s talented as a change-agent administrator. The role of change agent can be hard and coarse. Not many bosses can do it, and that’s why we have layers of questionable operations in many walks of life.

As the tortuous 2016 Mill Creek headlines rolled on, there’s good reason to believe headhunters had plenty of options for him.

As that played out, some Ohio metroparks’ opinions of Mill Creek filtered in expressing belief that the system was bloated. That’s not me. That’s park peers saying this about Mill Creek – conjuring up visions of a place with more kingdoms than “Game of Thrones.”

And if you’re not to believe peers, then how about a park regular who voiced this on the message board Thursday:

“I did not support [Young] when he was hired, and his dumping of all those good, dedicated people still does not sit well. But, I spend a lot of time in the park running, kayaking, and hiking and have not noticed any deterioration since his arrival. In fact, the park continues to be the gem of this beautiful Valley. So I guess, based on that, his raise is reasonable.”

Young persevered through the 2016 crush when so many others jumped from the boat.

If that battle over Mill Creek MetroParks in 2016 was, say, just a “Thrones” clan skirmish, then what city council is inviting with its Ryan/Covelli/amphitheater poking is an all out war-of-wars at the north wall vs. the ice creatures. It’s especially precarious, given the uncertain mayoral status heading into 2018.

While Thursday’s council story was, on the surface, mostly over Ryan’s contract for Covelli and the planned amphitheater contract, beneath that is a restlessness that has been teeming for a bit.

The black-white race filter in the city that shined brightly in the last two mayoral votes is chipping into Ryan and his arena success.

Summarizing the critics’ concerns simply:

The facility is too suburban (code: white) and the offered shows do not reflect enough of the city it calls home.

Let’s be honest: The color of the arena is not black or white. It is green.

That’s the money it either makes or loses and whether users pay for the facility or the city taxpayers pay for it.

Ryan has been successful in zeroing in on the acts that fill 6,000 seats and has turned the arena into one of the most profitable, per capita, in the country. Council needs to remember his company inherited a losing facility from a national management company.

The acts that fit 6,000-seat arena budgets, in green reality, are largely not urban or diverse. They also are not symphonic music acts. They’re not heavy-metal acts. They’re not even Todd Franko acts – which usually consist of a barefoot dude in a hat, an acoustic guitar and 1,000 people nodding in 1960s folk flashbacks.

So the Covelli model works against more performance genres than it actually works for.

That’s just the plain truth for many of us. But that truth is a bit unsettling when measured through a black-white race filter – especially in this era we are living in.

And that is now seeping into debate over the $9 million amphitheater and having it run by Ryan.

The council risks the following with the path it’s on:

Amphitheater projections are buoyed by the success of Covelli. That’s due to one company and one formula. To flirt with that is a risk of epic results.

The sponsorships needed to launch the facility are investing based on Ryan’s role. Poke at his role, and you risk the new money for the outdoor site.

Paying his company $1,000 per month to manage the place is an insult. That bad path continues with a plan to tether to any management structure a new city position designed as a minority-affairs outreach person. At minimum, it’s a poor expense, and at best, it’s a management quagmire.

But this is politics.

In recent history, the Covelli operations, and Ryan specifically, have escaped politics, and the result has been immense fiscal success for the facility.

Couple what is going on now with what can happen with a mayoral change, and the role reversal of news we saw in Thursday’s paper could become a more frequent occurrence for Covelli, Ryan and the amphitheater.

If it does, it will not bode well for the new park, the Covelli arena or the city as a whole.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at He blogs, too, on Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.

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