A letter to the Tribune

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Dear Editor:

I was very disappointed by today’s article, “Packard Contract Disputed,” beginning with the sub-head, “Mayoral candidates disagree on JAC,” which completely misses the point of the issue at hand.

Positioning this as a partisan dispute between the Mayor and me was a bit of misdirection that tainted the entire article. This is not a matter of my opinion versus the Mayor’s opinion. There is a contract in black and white that speaks for itself. By filtering the facts of the contract through statements of the parties to that contract, without fact checking, the Tribune made the entire issue look like a matter of opinion.

Most of the front page portion of the text, and much of the article, consists of quotes from JAC president Eric Ryan, defending his company’s selection as the managers of Packard Music Hall. I don’t know anyone who questions JAC’s qualifications; what is in question is the manner in which they were selected and the terms of the contract.

Who could blame JAC for accepting the terms they extracted in their no-competitition contract negotiations with Mayor Franklin and Safety Service Director Cantamalessa?

The facts are these: The city of Warren is paying a hand-picked, private company $1 million and giving it complete, rent-free control over Packard Music Hall for five years, plus the free use of the city’s liquor license. In return Warren gets 25 cents per ticket. Nothing else.

This is not mentioned until the 33rd paragraph of your 36-paragraph story. Even then the article suggests that the city receives a “percentage” of ticket and alcohol sales. We do not. We receive a flat 25 cents per ticket and nothing from alcohol sales; points that are clearly stated in the contract. We do get a cut of parking revenue, but parking is free at PMH.

The article’s use of quotation marks around statements made by me might lead readers to believe I was interviewed for the article. I was not; all the quotes were accurate, but were taken from posts I wrote on Warren Expressed two weeks ago.

I would have loved to have had the opportunity to respond to some of the administration’s comments, in particular, Mr. Cantalamessa’s statement that they have kept the former PHM employees on the city payroll, “in case this does not work out.”

If true, this is an outrageous example of waste and stupidity by the administration. Imagine if when GM dropped Pontiac from their model line up, they had kept a few thousand employees on the payroll in case eliminating the brand “didn’t work out.”

Imagine what GM shareholders would have had to say about that? The word “adios” comes to mind.

It’s been two weeks since my original commentary appeared online. Two weeks that the administration had to get their story together. Two weeks that the Tribune could have used to look at the JAC contract with the Covelli Center to see how it compares with the PMH deal. How is it that the Covelli Center manages to make meaningful revenue on liquor and ticket sales while we have no hope of either in our deal?

Finally, I am very disappointed that the Tribune allowed two highly bombastic and self-serving quotes from the Mayor and Mr. Ryan to run in the article without challenge or comment. Mr. Franklin claims not to have been obligated to seek bids on the contract, and Mr. Ryan claims JAC is the only company in the state of Ohio qualified the run the hall. The latter statement is ridiculous on its face and the former has been challenged by several local lawyers.

I urge every voter and taxpayer in Warren to read the PMH contract for themselves and see if they feel that Mayor Franklin and DPSS Cantamalessa negotiated a deal in their best interest. Send me an email at dennis@warrenexpressed.org and I will reply with a copy. I have also attached a copy to this message in case the Tribune would like to post a copy on the contract JAC_Agreement on its web site.

Sincerely,

Dennis Blank

Publisher, Warren Expressed and Independent candidate for Mayor of Warren

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Hilarious video

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23802360_BG1A few weeks ago I posted a short essay on the importance of holding on to the businesses we have in order to secure our economic base in Warren. I advocated for simplifying the process of getting city permits and inspections, because so many local business people tell me it is now a confusing and complicated process.

Cut to last week and a WFMJ news piece on a battle between the city of Warren and downtown bail bondsman Tom Cool (above), over the size of his signs, which he says is politically motivated. He claims the city is interpreting the law incorrectly, and points out his front door to the campaign office of Warren Law Director Greg Hicks, who is more clearly not in compliance with recent updates in the sign laws.

Director Hicks responds that he was “unaware of the ordinance” and that he had checked with both WRAP and his own law department and thought he was in compliance. If the city’s own Law Director finds the process this confusing, how is a local small business person supposed to successfully navigate it?

Written by Dennis Blank for Mayor

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The new Youngstown Road

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1978670_609577425795285_1119389579_nMy grandfather had a gas station on Youngstown Road back in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Cotton’s City Service was in the building that is now home to Carmen’s Pizza. I spent a lot of time there as a young kid doing a lousy job of washing windows and even getting to pump a little gas once and a while when one of Cotton’s many friends stopped in for a fill-up.

Youngstown Road was a pretty dynamic place in those days but other than Warren Baking and the barber shop across the street, little of that vitality remains today. Like many similar shopping areas of the pre-suburban era, Youngstown Road has fallen into a largely unproductive state.

Reviving and revitalizing Youngstown Road from downtown to the city limits will be a very high priority for me should I win the November 3rd general election.

This is a hugely underperforming city asset; it is heavily trafficked and the main route from downtown to the mall. It should be lined with nice little shops and services that contribute to the city’s economy.

The timing is perfect. Thanks to the fine efforts of city engineer Paul Makosky, Youngstown Road will be completely resurfaced, along with new curbs, in 2018-19. This is the time to start planning to take advantage of this new infrastructure.

First, we should be taking a hard look at the underlying sewer and water mains to do whatever preventative maintenance we can before the new road goes in. Nothing is more galling than watching a brand new road being dug up to fix a 100 year old pipe.

Next we need to define the goal. In my view it is not the role of government to be the developer of property. Rather, government should shine a light on an area it wants to see developed and then do the organizational and administrative things necessary to make the area attractive to private developers and entrepreneurs.

Warren is not the only city in America that has a Youngstown Road of its own in need of revival. In fact, it is all too common, and therefore the problem has been addressed and solved in lots of other places already; the blueprints to the solution are in the public domain.

For example, last year the Greater Ohio Policy Center published a report entitled: “Redeveloping Commercial Vacant Properties in Legacy Cities.” It could have been titled “Redeveloping Youngstown Road,” it is that specific to our needs.

In 110 pages it lays out, in step-by-step fashion, everything a city needs to do to attract investment in a commercial strip like YTR. Broadly speaking, these steps include creating an  inventory of all the property in the corridor, including a list of that which is vacant, judging their condition, their current or most recent use, vacant/occupied status, owner, etc.

Code violations and tax delinquency should be identified for each properties as a tool to move them into more productive hands and suggestions as to how to use both the carrot and the stick to motivate landlords to cooperate.

The report advises on the right way to do marketing studies to identify what consumers in a given area want to see on the new YTR.

Importantly, the report contains pages of sources of both public and private funding, and suggestions for the best legal structures to deploy. There are even sample forms to use for organizing projects and many examples of successful redevelopment projects — most of them in nearby cities where site visits are easily made and where we can get advice from people with experience.

I attended a webinar hosted by GOPC and have spent at least 20 hours with the printed report since then. I am convinced that there is absolutely nothing stopping Warren from doing this. The cost is minimal. It is simply a matter of having a plan and executing it. Currently, nothing like this is being attempted on Youngstown Road or anywhere else in Warren, because we have no plan.

We can do better.

If this subject interests you the report can be download as a PDF here: vacantproperties-doc

Written by Dennis Blank for Mayor.

Photo courtesy of Shuttic Arts

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Beautiful photos and a party

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11264590_955250387831051_2309972738003579243_nPerhaps you’ve seen the television commercial featuring a distinguished, (if somewhat older), gentleman, inviting you to come to the Garden District this Friday? Take his advice and join wonderful group of people for the Garden District Crawl followed by a cook out at the painted lady on Belmont, this Friday afternoon beginning at 4:00 p.m.

You can park, if you like, at the Amp, then ride the trolly to and from the GD, because after that party there is a free concert at the Amp featuring Carlos Jones and the Plus Band at 7:00 p.m. Carlos played here the last two summers and puts on a great show that even the little kids seem to love.

So much progress has been made in the Garden District the past two years, and everyone involved is very excited about showing off the results of all the creativity and volunteer energy that has made it possible. The Garden District is fast becoming Warren’s most dynamic neighborhood.

I promised beautiful photos in the title, which you will find below. They were taken just a few days ago. The flowers are in bloom and you couldn’t ask for a better time to see them. As I write, the weather forecast is 82 degrees, mostly sunny with little chance for rain. Please join us!

Stone Wall

Peace of Hope_1

Central City Garden

Phytoremediation Site

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Central City_2

Peace of Hope_3

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Vineyard

Porter_2

Native Rock Wall

Twin Wall_2

Giving Tree_1

Twin Wall_1

 

 

 

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Here is the actual PMH contract

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Anyone wishing to read the actual contract in which the city of Warren gives JAC Management the “sole, entire, exclusive charge of the Facility,” (meaning Packard Music Hall) can read said document here. Many thanks to Karen and Rebecca for their help getting the contract turned into a PDF.

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