Residents Not Happy with Southern Park Mall CED Vote

BOARDMAN, Ohio — The exchange between Boardman Township trustees and township residents got heated Monday morning leading up to the trustees’ vote on whether to approve a community entertainment district application for the Southern Park Mall.

The main point of contention is what precisely Washington Prime Group – the Columbus-based owner and operator of the Boardman mall – plans to do with the former Sears space where demolition began Sept. 7. Residents who spoke contended that trustees were being too quick to approve the application for the community entertainment district, or CED, which includes allowing Washington Prime Group to pursue five additional liquor permits through the state for the development.

Of the some 15 resident attending the meeting, about half addressed trustees directly – either after being recognized or from their seats. The consensus was they feel trustees shouldn’t approve the CED application until they have a better idea of what tenants Washington Prime looks to bring into the space.

“We haven’t really heard anything from Washington Prime Group about what concrete they’re doing out there,” one resident said. “And I want to know, what’s their tax revenue plan? What do they plan on doing out there that’s going to create some revenue? What’s going to bring in some good jobs?”

Trustee Brad Calhoun explained that Washington Prime can’t disclose most of the contracts the company is negotiating for possible future tenants. And while Washington Prime has announced some possible tenants, Calhoun said he has not seen any signed documents saying for certain who will be a tenant there.

Still, the trustees needed to vote on the application for Washington Prime to meet its stated goal of having everything in place to begin construction by the spring, he said.

“As we’ve been told by Washington Prime, this is the No. 2 asset that they’re spending money on in all of their holdings,” Calhoun said. “They’ve never seen anything move so fast as far as all their construction deadlines and everything like that to get this done for their 50th anniversary.”

Earlier this month, Matt Jurkowitz, Washington Prime vice president of development, explained to the Western Reserve Port Authority’s board of directors it sought an incentives package that would reimburse the development company $6 million of the project’s total $30 million cost.

Board members for Boardman Local Schools approved Washington Prime’s request for a Community Reinvestment Act designation, which must be approved by the Mahoning County Board of Commissioners.

“Also, having some of these incentives in place would help them attract a better class of tenant,” said trustee Tom Costello. “Without these incentives, they might not be able to attract some of the bigger names.”

Still, residents contended the trustees shouldn’t move on the application or any such incentives until they have more information. Ralph Cook, resident, said trustees had the option to deny the application, which Washington Prime could then bring back for a vote when they have more information, so “What’s the rush today?” he asked.

“The way I’m taking this, I don’t know if anybody else is, you’ve already made up your mind. You’re voting ‘yes’ on this project,” said Ralph Cook, resident. “They say they’re going to build this, build that. Can you tell me what they have plans for?”

Jason Loree responds to a resident during the meeting.

Cook continued, saying that Meijer, the Michigan-based grocery store chain that plans to build a store in the township, provided plans and renderings for the construction of its proposed store.

“We ask that you take your time and come back with answers. Just like Meijer’s did. They came with a whole plan,” Cook said. “As elected officials, you have a responsibility to the residents of Boardman to find out what they’re doing before you OK it. That’s all we’re asking.”

Jason Loree, township administrator, said the application has been available for public review since November and the trustees had 30 days to accept or deny the application. The only way the trustees could deny the application is if it wasn’t in line with Ohio Revised Code, he said. “What we got from the application was spot on,” he said.

As far as getting more information from Washington Prime Group, the company needed the application approved by trustees to continue negotiations with possible tenants, he said.

“It sounds like they were trying to pursue restaurants or entertainment that needed to have the ability to have alcohol and liquor as part of their business plan,” Loree said. “So by having this barrier of entry now solved, I think you basically are saying, ‘All right, tenant, we’re ready to go.’ ”

After more than an hour of public discussion, trustees Moliterno, Costello and Calhoun voted unanimously to approve the agreement.

Read more on this story at The Business Journal Tuesday morning.

Pictured above: Boardman Township trustees Larry Moliterno, Tom Costello and Brad Calhoun voted unanimously to approve the CED.

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