|Last updated: 6/25/04 3:32 PM|
|Last updated: 6/25/04 3:32 PM|
Published: Tue, Jun 22, 2004
Public mention of securing federal money for an arena first came in mid-1999.
YOUNGSTOWN Daytime soap operas have had fewer twists the past five years than the downtown arena project.
Some might say one of the more unlikely turns comes today.
City officials and developers were to move the first shovels of dirt this morning marking the ceremonial start of construction for the 5,500-seat, $41 million project. Digging the foundation is to start in about two weeks.
Mayor George M. McKelvey called today a day of celebration.
"I'm excited and happy for the community," he said.
The city overcame many obstacles to reach a deal, McKelvey said. He expects more problems that typically come with public construction projects. But McKelvey said he is committed to reaching the November 2005 ribbon cutting.
The project that emerged dates to 1999, when now-jailed U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. and businessman Bruce Zoldan talked about building an arena in the city.
Traficant first publicly mentioned securing federal money for an arena in mid-1999. His comments came in relation to the minor league Youngstown Hawks basketball team.
He introduced legislation in Congress seeking $15 million for an arena for minor league basketball, hockey, concerts and conventions.
The Hawks didn't last the season before leaving town, but the arena idea remained.
Traficant, a registered Democrat, made the controversial decision to vote for a Republican as speaker of the House. After his announcement, but before eventually casting the vote, Traficant won $26.8 million in federal grants for the arena project.
That was just the start of the roundabout story.
Soon after the city received the money in July 2000, Traficant pushed city council into creating a nonprofit agency. The agency was to plan and build the arena, a mechanism other cities have used.
Council created a 13-member agency in the fall, but the so-called arena board didn't get to work until early 2001.
There was sniping over a myriad of issues. A final showdown over which controlled the federal money the city or the board put the agency out of business just a year later.
Council dissolved the arena board in early 2002. Its only tangible accomplishment was hiring a consultant the city still uses.
Former arena board members say they figured something would get built. They just weren't sure what.
Leonard Schiavone, former board chairman and a city council appointee, said he had one moment of doubt that the city would build an arena.
That was in November of last year. Vindicator management lobbied Ohio's U.S. senators to widen the federal grant's purpose beyond an arena to include other downtown projects.
The effort fell though, however, and ultimately solidified the goal of building an arena.
Schiavone is surprised how close the $41 million project comes to plans hatched four years ago, though original visions also included a hotel and conference center.
"Remarkably, at least the basic concept is still there," he said.
McKelvey took over the project in 2002 after council killed the arena board. Most of the year was spent quietly making plans.
The city sought development proposals in fall 2002, receiving four. The city picked Landmark Organization of Austin, Texas, and its vision of turning the federal grant into a $70 million arena, hotel and conference center.
Negotiations with Landmark, which merged to become FaulknerUSA, broke down in mid-2003, however. FaulknerUSA didn't bring additional private funding, so the city moved on to talking with the developer's partners.
That sowed the seeds of today's deal.
The city started talking with Global Entertainment Systems, of Phoenix, in the fall of last year.
The firm's subsidiaries include:
* International Coliseums Co., which builds arenas.
* Global Entertainment Marketing Systems, which markets luxury seating, arena naming rights and advertising.
* The Central Hockey League, a professional minor league that provides an arena's main tenant.
Global Entertainment Systems also uses a separate company, Global Spectrum, of Philadelphia, to manage arenas day to day.
The city signed contracts March 24 to build and manage the arena.