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Port Authority Anticipates Closing on Harshman Building Next Week

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The Western Reserve Port Authority expects to take possession next week on the Harshman Building downtown.

The port authority’s board of directors approved three action items related to the building Wednesday. The board held its monthly meeting as well as meetings for its aviation and economic development committees at Covelli Enterprises.

During the meeting, the board approved a 10-year lease with Eastern Gateway Community College for the basement and ground floor of the building, which it is purchasing from NYO Property Group, Youngstown. The board also approved taking out up to $800,000 in tax-exempt government bonds through Cortland Bank to purchase the building and renovate Eastern Gateway’s space.

Eastern Gateway is expected to approve the lease next week, allowing the port authority to close on the building the following Friday, said Anthony Trevena, director of economic development for the Northeast Ohio Development and Finance Authority, the port authority’s economic development arm.

The money is being borrowed at an 11-year term at 3.5% interest, with the port authority only paying interest during the first year, Trevena said.

At its meeting last month, the port authority approved borrowing up to $952,000 to purchase and renovate the building.

The port authority will borrow additional money using a separate set of bonds once a lease agreement is signed for the second floor, Trevena said. The type of bond will depend on the nature of the tenant leasing the space, said Kevin Kern, the port authority’s chief financial officer.

The port authority will renovate the space for classrooms, offices and a wellness center for Eastern Gateway, Trevena said.

Under the lease agreement, Eastern Gateway will be responsible for exterior issues including snow removal, Trevena said, while the port authority will deal with maintenance of the building’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.

The third item Eastern Gateway approved by the board was a $52,165 contract with Boak & Sons, Austintown, to replace the building’s roof.

A decade ago, community colleges like Eastern Gateway and universities like Youngstown State University “ran at odds and sometimes in competition,” but now often run in partnership, said John Moliterno, the port authority’s executive director.

“The relationships have changed and because of that, community colleges re a n absolute growth industry, so for us to partner with them is a very positive thing,” he continued. “It could lead to a variety of other things from an economic development standpoint.”

The intent is to turn the space over to Eastern Gateway in early December to prepare the space for winter semester.

During the meeting, the board also approved a new two-year contract for Moliterno, whose current three-year contract expires Sunday. His annual salary will remain at $110,000, unchanged form the current agreement. The port authority will pick up 7% of the 10% of his salary that he pays into the Public Employees Retirement System, said Dan Keating, WRPA’s attorney.

Board member David Detec, an attorney who has represented Moliterno, recused himself from an executive session when the board discussed Moliterno’s contract, and abstained from voting on the agreement.

Moliterno, who served as interim executive director for nearly a year, brought stability to the port authority, said chairman Marty Loney.

“The last couple of years, with all the turbulence that’s happened, he’s brought a year guiding voice to kind of stabilize everything and take the reins and lead. He’s done a great job,” he said.

“When I originally took the position, I said that I’d like to take the port authority to where I thought it should be in the community,” Moliterno said. “What we’ve tried to do the past four years is try to restore the credibility of the port authority for what it is, and to be able to use its power so the port authority in conjunction with all the other development agencies in the Valley to make it a better place.”

During the public comments portion of the board meeting, James Dignan, president and CEO of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, reported on the chamber’s Washington, D.C. Fly-In that took place June 20 and 21.

Much of his remarks focused on discussions related to the proposed East Coast Missile Defense site under consideration by the Department of Defense. The Camp Ravenna Joint Military Training Center, which borders western Trumbull County, is one of three sites being considered for the proposed $5 billion project.

The Defense undersecretary for installations told the delegation during the fly-in everyone was going to be surprised that a report was coming in the next two to three weeks, meaning the report should be out now, Dignan said.

“By ‘surprised,’ we infer that they meant that they’re going to announce a site is recommended, and an outside chance they’ll say which is the preferred site,” he continued. Such an announcement would be preferable to “food fight” that would ensue if the department said it was moving forward with the project but not announcing a decision for another 60 days, he said.

Outside of efforts by the chamber, the state of Ohio has spent $75,000 on efforts to attract the project, far less than New York and Michigan, the other two states in contention for the project. Michigan spends $75,000 each month on lobbying efforts in Washington, and New York spent $750,000 over the past three years, Dignan reported.

“To be honest, [Ohio] was reluctant to get on board at all,” Dignan said. Just getting Gov. John Kasich to sign a letter of support for the project took multiple visits over a year and a half by former chamber CEO Tom Humphries and vice president of government affairs Guy Coviello, he said.

Kasich’s reluctance to get involved with the federal project might have been because of his “personal relationship” with President Donald Trump, he speculated.

That relationship is contentious at best. Kasich challenged Trump for the Republican presidential nomination, reportedly voted for U.S. Sen. John McCain for president and has been a frequent Trump critic since he took office. He also is widely speculated to be considering a challenge to Trump in 2020.

“We have representatives who don’t like the president of the United States so the president won’t help us,” board member David Mosure said.

“We have representatives who didn’t like the last president either,” Loney responded.