Friday, April 16, 2010

State Road project: Who was talking to whom?

IF THERE WAS a common denominator in the derailment of plans for the old State Road Shopping Center in Cuyahoga Falls, it would be fair to say it was a lack of clear communication among the players. Interviews with several City Council members and the school board president insisted that Mayor Robart was in the driver's seat from the beginning, and not until recently did details of the tax sharing on the site emerge. And when they did, it was enough for Falls school district president Therese Dunphy to head up a 3-2 majority on the board to oppose the project. It was a setback that the outraged mayor and his staff never anticipated as its plan for a $60 million restoration of the huge site moved smoothly along over the flattened old buildings that were razed to be replaced by ---what?

According to Dunphy, the schools normal 60 pct. share of the property taxes became a moving part. "We had figured on 25 pct or 3o pct. for this project, but in February were told by Sue Truby (Falls development director) that actually we would only get 60 pct. of 25 pct., or 15 pct." She said that after Supt. Ed Holland talked to city officials, he advised the school board that the city's best offer would be 22 pct.

As is his wont these days, Robert assailed Dunphy because she lives in Silver Lake, which is part of the Falls school district, telling the Beacon Journal that Silver Lake school board members "had very little skin in the game". Cool, whatever that choice of words is supposed to mean in this instance.

Council members told me there weren't many meetings between City Hall and the Council on the ongoing project that led Council to authorize borrowing $10 million to buy the site in 2008 - a bill that will have to be paid whether the project goes forward or not.

Diana Colavecchio, the City Council president, concedes that the details about the project were not crystal clear, and that communications between Robart's people and Council could have been much better. But Council approved it as a measure of something that the city had to do. Others, she said, shared that view.

OK, already. What's next? Colavecchio says the matter will again be taken up at the April 26 Council meeting and she is asking city officials and school board members to attend to have a fair discussion of how the project can be salvaged.

I don't find anybody who is totally against the suburban renewal. but there remains a question about how an "upscale" grocery store will attract enough other retailers to fill that vacant land mass at Portage Trail and State Road. For this kind of an investment, assumptions and upbeat assurances aren't nearly enough. Particularly in these troubled economic times, right? There have already been too many assumptions to risk many more.

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