WRPA Approves Capital Leases for Battery Plant, Mall Renovation

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The Western Reserve Port Authority approved capital lease agreements Wednesday morning to advance the proposed General Motors-LG Chem $2.3 billion battery plant and the $30 million renovation of Southern Park mall. 

Details of the leases are being finalized, but they typically run about five years, said Anthony Trevena, the port authority’s economic development director. Both projects will benefit from the exemptions on state sales taxes for construction materials purchased. 

On Monday, the Lordstown Village Planning Commission approved the site plan for the battery plant. Site preparation work began last month at the 158-acre site, and concrete will be poured and underground piping will be installed in mid-June, said GM spokesman Dan Flores. 

“We appreciate the port authority’s willingness to consider and pursue creative approaches to the incentive process. We continue to work with the port authority as we move forward,” he said.

“It’s moving forward pretty quickly now,” said Marty Loney, WRPA chairman.  

WRPA officials provided updates on several projects during the meeting, which was conducted by videoconference. 

Among those updates was a report by the port authority’s executive director, John Moliterno, that WRPA formally applied Monday to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development – or Build – program.

The port authority submitted a pair of applications, for a $1 million planning grant and a $25 million grant to implement proposed smart vehicle and other infrastructure improvements in Lordstown to capitalize on the battery plant, Lordstown Motors Corp.’s electric vehicle plant and other developments in the village. 

The port authority is the lead applicant on the grant. Other partners include Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber, Youngstown State University and Brite Energy Innovators. 

The applicants won’t know for several months whether their requests will be approved, Moliterno said.  

“If we’re able to get this grant, this will encourage a lot of additional activity to take place, both in the Lordstown and the North Jackson area,” he predicted. 

The port authority is in the “final stages of negotiation” with a tenant for the former Chemical Bank building in Boardman, 3900 Market St., Trevena said. Chemical Bank, which donated the building to the port authority, is in the process of moving into a former PNC Bank branch building across the street.  

Kevin Kern, WRPA’s chief financial officer, also provided an update on the port authority’s finances in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, which is expected to deeply impact lodging tax income in Mahoning and Trumbull counties. Kern said the port authority is budgeting for a “worst-case scenario.” 

Since the port authority receives taxes two months after they are collected, the most recent month’s taxes it received were for February, before the business shutdowns and restrictions on public gatherings that were implemented to curtail the spread of the coronavirus.   

On average, the port authority receives $1.5 million in lodging taxes annually. 

Pictured: A rendering of the $2.3 billion Ultima Cells LLC battery plant in Lordstown, a joint venture between General Motors and LG Chem.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.