Court Sets Chill-Can Trial for Next October

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — A dispute between the city and the developer of the stalled Chill-Can project is scheduled to go to trial a year from now, according to papers filed with the Mahoning County Court of Common Pleas.

Magistrate Timothy G. Welsh signed an order Tuesday setting a bench trial for Oct. 17, 2022, after a status conference via telephone was held in the magistrate’s chambers. The order also includes a schedule of case deadlines beginning in 2022. 

The schedule calls for M.J. Joseph Development Corp. to complete its discovery and exchange of expert narrative reports by Feb. 12, 2022, and for the city to complete its discovery process by March 12 of that year.  All dispositive motions are to be filed by April 12, the order says.

A mediation session is scheduled for Aug. 23, 2022, at 9:30 a.m. followed by a pretrial hearing at 11 a.m., according to the schedule.

In March, the city notified Joseph Development and its CEO, Mitchell Joseph that it was in violation of two development agreements it signed in 2017 that provided incentives so the company could construct a proposed $20 million research and manufacturing campus to produce self-chilling cans on the city’s East Side. 

According to the agreements, the city would award the project a $1.5 million development grant and a tax abatement of 75% over 10 years. In return, Joseph Development was to complete three buildings and have hired 237 people by August 2021. 

Yet after nearly five years since breaking ground, the project remains unfinished. Not a single can has been produced and just a handful of security personnel have been hired.

The city is seeking $2.8 million in recovery, plus control of the 21 acres that were cleared to make way for the development. According to a counter-complaint filed in June, the city says it is owed the $1.5 million in development grant money, plus another $414,948 in property acquisition and relocation costs, and another $318,523 in demolition and abatement expenses.

The city also claims it has been damaged by the loss of income tax revenue based on the project’s promised payroll of $8 million. The city estimates this loss at $575,000. 

Joseph Development filed a complaint against the city in May, asserting that the city lacked the authority to collect any restitution or force the developer to give up the land. In July, the company filed a response to the city’s claim saying that any delays to the project were the fault of the city and not the developer. It has asked the court to dismiss the city’s counterclaim that it is owed $2.8 million.

Two empty buildings with dirt floors were constructed at the site, while a third building has concrete floors, restrooms, and a conference room, says Jeff Limbian, the city’s law director.

He and others inspected the site Oct. 4, and Limbian says although the buildings are neglected they are salvageable. 

“There’s a water leak in one area, and there were rat feces in one building,” he says. Bullet holes were also found along one of the building’s skin. 

The building with the concrete floor contained some equipment that was still wrapped and stacked against a far wall, Limbian says. 

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.