City to Explore Amphitheater Between Bridges, Keep 20 Federal

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — The city, which in recent years has explored selling both 20 Federal Place and the Covelli Centre, will retain ownership of the downtown office building and explore adding an amphitheater to the arena to enhance its profitability, Mayor John McNally said Tuesday.

In an interview Tuesday afternoon, McNally said he had informed NYO Property Group, which last year submitted the sole response to the city’s request for proposals to sell 20 Federal that the city would retain ownership of the building.

He said he expects a request for qualifications to be posted on the city’s website later today for proposals to build an amphitheater and develop greenspace on about 15 acres on either side of the Market Street bridge heading into downtown — from the South Avenue Bridge to the western edge of the former Wean United property.

“When we first put out the request for proposals to consider selling [20 Federal], I said at the time the only way I was going to sell the property is if I thought it was the best deal for the city,” McNally said. Given improvements now under way at the Wick and Wells buildings, plans for a hotel downtown and activity at the Covelli Centre, “I decided that the best thing for the city right now is to maintain ownership of that building.”

In October, NYO proposed purchasing 20 Federal for $1.7 million plus interest over six years. A sticking point in negotiations is an adjacent parking lot on West Commerce Street, which NYO wanted included in the purchase.

Though the parking lot issue was a concern, it wasn’t an overriding one, McNally said. Two more important considerations were the opinions of the building’s tenants and its importance to downtown overall. VXI Global Solutions, which operates an inbound call center on more than 2 ½, expressed its preference that the city retain ownership of the property.

About 1,200 people overall work in the building, which generates about $1 million in income taxes for the city, according to the city’s finance director, David Bozanich.

Representatives of VXI and NYO did not respond to requests for comment.

Brisk activity downtown and the improved financial performance of the Covelli Center influenced McNally to seek proposals to develop an adjacent amphitheater and greenspace, he said. Last year, the Covelli Center generated a $706,718.61 profit for the city.

“This will only enhance the Covelli Centre site,” McNally said.

Eric Ryan, president of JAC Management, which operates the Covelli Centre, and city officials have discussed the importance of securing more warm weather events to improve the revenue stream.

“When you get into the spring and summer and early fall, folks might not want to be inside. They want to be outside enjoying things. That’s probably the weak link with the setup right now,” Ryan said. “We’re hoping this will help close that link.”

Ryan also hopes that the project will lead to development of a riverwalk-type area.

“Certainly it’s something we’ve wanted for a long time,” he said. An amphitheater will give JAC the ability to do community events that the cost structure of an arena makes difficult to do, in addition to providing a venue for outdoor concerts. While it is preliminary to discuss specifics, he envisions space for seating for 3,000 to 4,000 patrons, with chairs that can be put up and taken down.

“We wouldn’t want to see fixed seats because we want it to be multiuse,” he said.

Similar venues elsewhere are used not just for staging concerts but also for large and small gatherings, festivals, farmers markets and other community events, Ryan noted. He believes that an amphitheater can be operated with little overhead and the Covelli Centre’s existing staff.

“When you take those things into consideration and the fact that people want to be outside, people want to see shows outside [in the spring and summer months] and a lot of artists want to play outside, those things combined are really why we’ve been pushing for an amphitheater,” he said. “The time had to be right for the city to move forward.”

In 2013, City Council approved seeking letters of interest for professional architectural and design services for construction for an amphitheater. Hesitant to move forward on the project before a revenue stream had been identified, McNally said the city is exploring state and local grants to fund parts of the project, as well as selling naming rights.

Covelli Centre revenues also could be used toward the project, but no general fund money will go to it, the mayor emphasized

“Part of this process will be finding out exactly how much this work would cost,” he said.

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