Update: An excerpt from n reader e-mail on the issue of whether or not Benson Stadium will be ready for local high schools/colleges, to wit:
Good morning Martin,
I was reading your recent installment on the topic of the HOF Village.
"Smuckler and other assembled council persons in the Q&AS failed to seek assurance that the stadium will in fact be completed on time for this year's HOF game and Canton/Plain Township high school football season. "
I know that in the WKYC interview of HOF President Baker, he assured the media that the field would be ready for the HOF game. However right after they would resume work on the other side of the stadium.
However, I thought you may be interested to know the schools have actually contracted with other schools / colleges in the area to use their football facilities this fall. For example Walsh University who uses Fawcett stadium has contracted to play their home games at North Canton Memorial Stadium (they cover this on their football website).
McKinley will play no home games this season for the same reason.
Purpose of the HOF Project (Inspiration)
Components of the Project
Questions or Lack thereof
Put to Baker
Canton Government Officials
It appeared that the members of Canton City Council and the Mayor Thomas Bernabei administration present were "spellbound" by Pro Football Hall of Fame CEO/Executive Director David Baker's "update" presentation last Tuesday (April 5, 2016) on the progress of NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame Village Project (HOF, HOF-V, HOF-VP).
Today's blog starts off with additional video of Baker's presentation, which he says, shows the HOF-VP to be clothed in mission, purpose and values designed to inspire and thereby over the longer haul fetch the attention of the world that Canton, Stark County, Ohio is to be—as the primary purpose of the HOF-VP, according to Baker— the "inspiration center of the earth as he says the Disney complexes are "the happiest places on earth."
A primary point that Baker made is that Canton and the HOF can compete with one another over existing area resources or they can work together to create a larger pie so that there is plenty for everybody.
First, a few slides from the Baker presentation.
Next, a video of most of Baker's presentation (NFL and HOF videos internal to the presentation omitted).
When complete, some years down the road, here is what HOF-V is to look like.
Other than the existing Hall complex itself, here is how the construction looks so far.
It could be that the attendees were so enthralled with Baker's presentation as being the reason why only a few questions were asked of him by Canton's government leaders at the end of his session.
Canton has invested $5 million dollars (paid out by Canton on September 4, 2015, [confirmed by Mark Crouse, Canton Finance Director]) so far in the NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame Village Project.
Only Councilman Bill Smuckler asked a meaningful question.
And that had to do with the financing of the project.
But Smuckler's question did not delve deep enough into specifically how much money has been raised.
Smuckler and other assembled council persons in the Q&AS failed to seek assurance that the stadium will in fact be completed on time for this year's HOF game and Canton/Plain Township high school football season.
It would not go over well with Canton voters if the $5 million does not result in a large differential of value added to Canton in terms of it school facilities.
One Stark County political subdivision elected official whom the SCPR has been in contact with since the HOF-VP was announced nearly one year ago is hopeful that Baker's enthusiasm and optimism is well placed.
But this official has questions.
And there are others who have told The Report that they have concerns that the project has been ballyhooed to the degree that should it ultimately fail, Canton has seen nothing in terms of the doom and gloom that likely will set in to make it all the more difficult to rally the citizenry to the cause of digging Canton out of its current financial/economic development hole.
It is a hole that has been many years in the making and is owned by Canton government officials going back decades.
So said Canton's consultant for the Comprehensive Plan when he appeared before Canton City Council in a work session earlier this year.
Canton is currently running a $5.1 million annual deficit in its general fund operation and it is thought that the Canton City Council recently adopted Comprehensive Plan will require coming up with $465MM in order to get the city's infrastructure where it needs to be in order to be an attractive city for those looking for solid employment opportunities in a quality environment in which to live and raise their families.
The focal point of the skepticism such as it exists can be summarized in a few financial bullet points:
- Where is he estimated $475MM (Baker's latest estimate to the SCPR) to $500MM (cited on the HOF-V website to come from?
- How much as been raised so far?
- How much as been spent so far?
- What is to keep developers from cutting and running if it becomes apparent that the money is not coming at the levels needed to finish the various pieces of the HOF-VP?
- Is the stadium renovation itself at risk of being only half completed because the millions needed to complete it as envisioned?
There is a suspicion in the air that either Canton and/or Stark County voters are going to be asked to pony up millions more to aid in completing the project.
One observer comments that there is no way that the renovation of the stadium can be completed with the money reputedly raised so far, thought to be somewhere around $30MM.
In today's Baker video, he talks about the stadium floor being lowered some 12 feet and moved 40 feet closer to the HOF building complex.
The University of Akron's football facility built eight years ago or so, cost some $61MM.
It is thought that lowering Benson Stadium is at a great cost increase.
That Baker did not bring up enough detail about the financing factor was unfortunate because all the absence of hard information does is fuel speculation and rumors.
- Monies have been (Fulton Road corridor) and will be spent by Canton government to tie the HOF-VP to downtown Canton:
- What exists and what will be developed in terms of attractions to give visitors the HOF-V a reason to stay Canton/Stark County not two or three hours (as is presently the case) but rather two, three, perhaps four (Saunier) days?
- Are there more Canton based attractions to come? (that is to say, in addition to:)
- the National First Ladies' Library,
- Canton's Park System,
- the Market Square development,
- Palace Theater attractions,
- the Canton Symphony,
- the annual Stark County Fair,
- the McKinley Monument,
- the relocating to Canton "Black College Football Hall of Fame,"
- the Canton Charge, and the like
- What else is there fanning out across Stark Countians to attract out-of-towners coming to the HOF-V to stay for more than a few hours?
- If not, what is to hold HOF-V visitors for two/three/four days in Canton and Stark County?
- Will one of the "unintended" consequences of the project result in the relocation of downtown Canton in a de facto sense from from the Tuscarawas, Market Avenue, Cleveland Avenue core to Fulton at Interstate 77?
- Canton has had to cope with the Belden Village development, The Strip's development and perhaps expansion and now a Hall of Fame Village.
- It is said that the HOF-V is not competition to Canton.
The SCPR posed a question to Baker on the inchoate financing this way: "Is this 'begin to build it and they (the financiers) will come?"
"In that statement I think you are not looking at the financing model properly," he said.
He went on to talk about needing a plan in place to create a vision of what is designed to be built piece by piece.
So it seems that the financial plan is the raise the money component by component until the entire village is complete.
Is piece-by-piece financing realistic, inquiring minds might want to ask?
Of course, the first piece is the renovation of what was once Fawcett Stadium, now named after $11 million stadium rehab contributor and New Orleans Saint's owner Tom Benson. The planned hotel and the Excellence Center are to begin being constructed on September 1st.
Not one of the analysts of the HOF-VP, of course, admits to wanting the project to ultimately fail.
But one has to wonder given the drift of the conversation beyond the matter of financial viability and sustainability.
It is a curiosity to the SCPR that one questioner keeps saying that more ought to be done to delve into David Baker's background.
Apparently, the query has to do with a Los Angeles Times 1988 matter (LINK) in which former Irvine, CA city councilman and mayor David Baker (running for a Republican nomination for a seat in Congress) pled guilty to a $48,000 felony forgery count (reduced on sentencing to a misdemeanor by the sentencing judge) for which Baker was ordered to do community service.
Local media has reported that the HOF Board of Trustees (LINK) in the person of Aultman Hospital executive Ed Roth has fully vetted Baker on the incident and is satisfied that C. David Baker is a quality person meriting his selection as the Hall's CEO/Executive Director.
Going back to 1988 in terms of looking for something negative on Baker seems a bit much to the SCPR. Baker, to his credit, in the LA Times piece says he has huge regrets on how he handled the matter.
Baker is involved another big stakes, visionary project as a partner in a Henderson, Nevada project (LINK).
One has to wonder how many "irons in the fire" one man can handle, no?
Nevertheless, it appears to the SCPR that Baker—other than the Irvine cited matter—has had a distinguished career. (LINK).
"More needs to be done to delve into Baker's background?"
As far as the SCPR can see, there is nothing to delve into.
If he and his team at the NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame pull off the HOF-VP, Baker will likely end up being a Stark County icon.
However, The Report thinks that those (off the record as to identity) asking the questions need to be heard and answers provided.
It was disappointing that Canton's elected officials did not raise the questions posed by the skeptics cited in the blog at the meeting of April 5th.
Maybe they have in private in a more individualized setting.
If so, the SCPR is unimpressed.
And so should be the citizens of Canton, indeed, all of Stark County.
The Report did try to contact HOF officials to find out whether or not periodic financial accountings for funds-in, funds out are in the offing.
No response to the attempted contact so far.
Already there are millions of dollars of taxpayer monies that are not yet accounted for to the taxpaying public in terms of an in-and-out financial journal.
Realize it or not, Canton's elected officials should be pressing for such an accounting in their own political interests.
But if they want to take the personal/political risk of not having done so and things do not turn out well; they only have themselves to blame.
Not doing so is not an option insofar as the taxpayers' interest is concerned.