WRPA Gives Early OK for $20M in Bonds to Aid Thermal Plant

VIENNA TOWNSHIP, Ohio – The Western Reserve Port Authority gave preliminary approval to issue up to $20 million in industrial revenue bonds to assist the owner of the former Youngstown Thermal LLC plant.

The port authority’s board of directors approved the resolution of intent to issue the bonds on behalf of SOBE Energy Solutions at their meeting Wednesday morning.

Last year, a Mahoning County court magistrate approved the $250,000 sale of Youngstown Thermal and Youngstown Cooling LLC to SOBE, based in Dublin, Ohio.

Proceeds from sales of the bonds, if approved, would be used to pay for the first of three phases of upgrades, said SOBE representative Dave Ferro. That initial phase includes purchasing chillers and boilers, building renovations and distribution upgrades. 

Before the WRPA board can vote to approve the bonds, paperwork must be assembled and completed.

At one point, the port authority had considered acquiring Youngstown Thermal’s assets but the system went into receivership, said Anthony Trevena, WRPA’s economic development director. Because the port authority showed interest, customers including the city of Youngstown and the Youngstown Business Incubator remained customers. 

Now, contracts are being negotiated with Youngstown State University, Ferro said. “I have full permission to announce YSU will be rejoining the system,” he said. 

In addition, SOBE is in discussions with several downtown buildings, including the DoubleTree by Hilton Youngstown Downtown, to add them to the system.  

SOBE also plans to increase the plant’s existing two revenue streams – steam heat and cooling – to seven, including through the creation of byproduct commodities that will be generated from the conversion of petroleum-based products into a synthetic gas as well as selling energy the plant generates into the electric grid. 

John Moliterno, WRPA’s executive director, updated board members on potential development of three buildings – 30,000, 60,000 and 90,000 square feet – that the port authority wants to build on the southern portion of the airport property, a portion of which would be for a maintenance and repair operation. 

The port authority is in discussions with “a couple national entities” that are interested in occupying the space, as well as with representatives from JobsOhio regarding a necessary access road off state Route 193. 

The project cost would be in excess of $25 million and result in the creation of at least 250 jobs, Moliterno said. 

“It’s the biggest thing we’ve tackled in a long time,” he said. 

During the meeting, the port authority board also voted to accept the donation of 231 Main Ave. NW in Warren, which formerly housed Eastern Gateway Community College’s Warren Center and Mickey’s Army-Navy store before that. 

STORE Capital, a real estate investment trust affiliated with Eastern Gateway that donated the property, approached the port authority because of WRPA’s efforts to redevelop the former Chemical Bank site in Boardman, Moliterno said.

“It’s really a sign of the community seeing what the port authority is doing with these assets,” he said. WRPA will work with the city of Warren to determine the best use for the site. 

WRPA already is in discussions with half a dozen entities regarding the property, he reported. 

“There’s a lot of interest,” he said. 

Pictured: SOBE Energy Solutions representative Dave Ferro speaks at the Western Reserve Port Authority meeting Nov. 18.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.