City Rejects Offer From Chill-Can Developer, Prepares for Trial

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The city has rejected a proposed settlement to end its ongoing legal dispute with the developer of the stalled Chill-Can project, an official said Tuesday.

City Law Director Jeff Limbian said that M.J. Joseph Development Co. submitted a proposal last night, but declined to comment further on the nature or details of the offer.

“The city will make no comment on the offer,” Limbian said, citing the party’s mediation rights to keep details of the proposal confidential.  “The city administration has instructed our attorney to reject the offer.”

Instead, Limbian said that city attorneys would make the necessary arrangements for bringing the case to trial. The trial is scheduled for Oct. 17.

“The city will proceed with filing appropriate pretrial motions and prepare for a jury trial,” Limbian said.

Joseph’s attorney, Brian Kopp, did not return an email seeking comment as of this posting.

The proposal from M.J. Joseph comes one week after the parties met in a mediation session that discussed a potential settlement.

For more than a year, the city and the M.J. Joseph Development Co., based in Irvine, Calif., have been locked in a legal battle over the company’s plan to develop a $20 million campus on the east side that would manufacture the world’s first self-chilling can. 

The project was to also include research and development facilities to advance self-chilling technology.

Joseph Development and the city entered into two agreements in 2017 whereas the city would provide incentives in return for the project’s completion and the creation of 237 jobs by August of 2021.

At issue is an agreement signed in 2017 that awarded M.J. Joseph a $1.5 million development grant from the city to help prepare the project site. 

However, the developer has failed to complete the project and to create the specified number of jobs it promised. Three buildings sit empty at the site, while the company reports just one employee has been hired since ground was broken for the project nearly six years ago.

Kopp has said in earlier statements that the project was stalled mostly because of delays related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to court papers, the city alleges the company is in default of the agreements, and is asking the Mahoning County Court of Common Pleas to award it damages of more than $2.2 million.

That amount covers the $1.5 million grant and another $700,000 in public funds that the city says was used to purchase property and demolish structures to make way for the project.

However, Kopp during a hearing earlier this month, argued that the city isn’t entitled to request monetary damages, citing the lack of specificity in the agreements. Instead, any request for damages should be limited to reclaiming the property. 

In May 2021, before any court action was filed, Joseph Development offered the city $250,000 to resolve the dispute. The city rejected the offer.

Both parties have asked Magistrate Dennis J. Sarisky to issue a ruling as to whether the city could seek monetary damages. 

Sarisky had yet to rule on the motions as of this posting.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.