Journal Opinion: We All Wanted to Believe

Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown’s announcement March 31 that the city would give Mitchell Joseph and his company 60 days to fulfill its promise to develop a $20 million Chill-Can complex and create hundreds of jobs – or face legal action – was long overdue. 

During the four-plus years since Joseph unveiled his plans in 2016, the city handed him $1.5 million to develop the site, purchased land for the project, paid to relocate longtime residents, and awarded his company a 10-year 75% tax abatement.

Three empty buildings now stand on the site. Job creation deadlines established in agreements between the city and M.J. Joseph Development Corp. remain unfulfilled. Not one self-chilling beverage can has been produced.

It all sounded so good.

Youngstown-born Joseph said he would bring innovative technology and more than 200 jobs to the same land where his family operated a bottling company decades earlier. We wanted to believe that he was different than the flamboyant outsiders who came to town with big promises. He was one of our guys, with local ties, a degree from Youngstown State University, the blessings of Jim Tressel, and a compelling family history.

Everyone wanted Mitchell Joseph to succeed.

Naturally, city and civic leaders rallied around the exciting project, offering whatever financial assistance they could. We don’t pretend to know the entire situation. We also wonder how much due diligence the administration of the former mayor, John McNally, did before it embraced Joseph and his big plans. Some of the excuses presented for the delays seemed reasonable. But after we started looking into the company’s history, and found a checkered past, much didn’t ring true. 

Now, too much time has passed. The Chill-Can project is poised to join blimp factories, riverfront casinos and indoor racetracks in the mythology of Mahoning Valley economic “saviors.”

The silence from Joseph and his lawyers since the city gave him 60 days to come into compliance is not encouraging. And certainly not surprising.

Within the chain-link fences surrounding his “campus” stand three buildings that serve as silent, but no less impactful, symbols of broken promises, reminders of how easy it has been to take advantage of the former Steel Valley.

Now the dispute between the city and Chill-Can likely is headed for the courts, and prolonged litigation in which nobody will come out looking good. As Dan O’Brien reported April 1 (no joke), the city never transferred some of the land where the Chill-Can buildings sit. Good luck untangling that mess.  

Youngstown needed to cut its losses long ago.  

We like to believe in miracles.

We also believe in due diligence.

As long as the Chill-Can buildings stand empty, we’re not likely to forget how desperation makes for bad decisions.