Tuesday, January 2, 2018


UPDATE:  12:19 AM

As The Stark County Political Report sees it, the Pro Football Hall of Fame - Village Project (HOF. HOF-VP) folks are at their "wits-end" as to how to raise the nearly $1 billion that it is—at the end of the day—it is going to take to complete the expansion of the present-day complex to the vision presented to the Canton/Stark County Community some three years ago.

This is the 10th of a continuing Stark County Political Report series analysing the viability and accountability (for taxpayer funds involved) of the HOF-VP.

Here is a LINKED listing of prior blogs.  This SCPR is the only media that is following the evolvement of the HOF-VP in a non-cheerleader-fashion.
With a recent announcement that Stark County Regional Planning has selected a planning and design firm (Gannett Fleming) on a September, 2017 award of  a $200,000 U.S. Department of Transportation funded:
  • through the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT)
    • Stark County Regional Planning (SCRP), and the
      •  Stark County Area Transportation Study,
it is obvious that "the wheels are turning" among HOF-VP officials to find ways and means of  keeping the HOF-VP afloat,

The SCPR has learned that the Stark County engineer's office has had some involvement in the HOF-VP project, to wit:  (an excerpt of Stark County Engineer Keith Bennett to an inquiry by the SCPR)

Besides the involvement in the study and recommendations outlined above our direct involvement has been minimal and related to the normal functions of this office.  

These have included reviewing annexation requests/plats related to the City of Canton annexing portions of Plain Township in and around the Hall of Fame Village project.  We also assisted with the consultant selection of Gannett Fleming for the study described in the Repository by reviewing Statements of Qualification and Technical Approaches from various engineering/planning consultants who submitted material in response to a Request for Qualifications issued by the Stark County Area Transportation Study (SCATS).  

Myself and another staff member also attended interviews of the shortlisted project teams that led to the selection of Gannett Fleming.  Our involvement in these reviews and interviews were part of our normal duties related to being members of the SCATS Policy and Technical Advisory Committees.

Although I do not have a specific man hour count, I can say that the hours specifically related to the Hall of Fame Village project have been minimal since 2014.  They also have been limited to myself and a couple of staff members.

The SCPR has inquiries out to several local/state government entities seeking information on the "in-kind-esque" expenditures of taxpayer resources in support of the HOF-VP.

It would be interesting to know whether or not the $200,000 to Stark County Regional Planning (SCATS) will offset SCPR staff time investment of time and effort or will be used exclusively to pay Gannett Fleming, no?

(Highlighting added)

The SCPR thinks that another "sprung up lately" effort is the "Strengthening STARK" 2017 Report Commissioned by the Stark Community Foundation (SCF), to wit:

While the SCF effort by virtue of the above-pictured primer on its history, its local leadership support and its objectives seems to be across all spectrums of Stark County finances and economic development, the SCPR thinks that the "apparent" hard 'financial' times the HOF-VP has fallen into, it is more than coincidental for this SCF study to surface pretty much coincident with the name of the US-DOT/ODOT/SCRP/SCATS selection of  Gannett Fleming.

It appears that the transportation study is part of a one-two punch on the Stark County public.

SCATS will reportedly be seeking "public" input.

Punch two?

The SCF Study is targeting public officials, to wit:

The seeming strategy of the HOF-VP "powers that be" is that the more public money
  • (including cash and "in-kind expenditures of time and effort that can be, if local government authorities are pressed, be assigned a "cost" to the public treasury factor) 
that is spent on the what is supposed to be a LARGELY private sector enterprise, the more likely it becomes that once enough taxpayer money (federal, state and local) has been "invested?" in the project, it becomes "too big to fail" (in relative terms in the context of the city of Canton/Stark County financial viability) and accordingly public coffers will open up like "a once in 100 years" summer thunderstorm to rescue the woefully under private sector project.

One should not underestimate the charisma and hence salesmanship skills of one C. David Baker.

Back on January 2, 2014 when California import C. David Baker landed in Canton, Ohio to rejuvenate a static, if not failing in terms of having a bright financial future, Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Wikipedia describes Baker thusly:

Under his guidance, he has transformed the Hall of Fame into “The Most Inspiring Place on Earth” that is built around the important mission to “Honor the Heroes of the Game, Preserve its History, Promote its Values & Celebrate Excellence EVERYWHERE!”

It is interesting that no mention is made of the usually comprehensive Wikipedia articles of Baker's past troubles.

But mention is made of a recent award that Baker has attained.

A little bit of journalistic "cherry picking," no?

A case can be made that Baker's past difficulties was a "once-in-a-lifetime-mistake" and he has rehabilitated his character and therefore to be trusted to have a realistic, implementable plan of HOF-VP fruition.

However, there is a growing body of Stark County leadership skepticism that he is "the real deal" rather than "one smooth operator" that can sell anybody anything including those who control the government revenue streams. (i.e. taxpayer money)

The Wikipedia piece was probably written by Repository executive editor Rich Desrosiers, no?

You have to remember that The Repository is the "Official Newspaper of the Pro Football Hall of Fame."

There are rampant rumors and some concrete evidence that the HOF-VP is awash in red ink.

While serious questions remain about the financial viability of the HOF-VP, it is becoming increasingly apparent to The Report that Stark County political subdivision government entities (e.g city of Canton department of government, the Stark County commissioners, the Stark County Engineer and Stark County Regional Planning, et cetera) may be spending untold hours and office supply materials and services towards support the HOF-VP.

It is increasingly coming into focus that for Canton and to a lesser degree "all of Stark County" the HOF-VP has become an "all-our-eggs-in-basket" and "come-'Hell-or-High-Water,'" this HOF-VP is going to succeed!

Even if it takes over $1 billion!  And, a gigantic infusion of "taxpayer' cash???

Local government officials might end up being forced by HOF-VP officialdom (and their private (for profit & non-profit supporters)—having reached in deep, deep, deep into the Stark County body-politic to create an artificial ground-swell of public support—to put on an "additional" countywide sales tax?????

That is where the SCPR thinks private sector leadership under the lead of HOF-VP officialdom is heading in order to stave off a potential cataclysmic failure.

Accordingly, the SCPR thinks that local officials need to take a look of how much time and effort is being expended towards this project with an eye trained on the possibility that the project is not going to get anywhere near completion and the promise of being a base for employing some 13,000 plus mostly Stark Countians at the end of the project is looking more and more like "pie-in-the-sky" dangled in front of a desperate Stark County seat of government (i.e. Canton city government).

In cash layout Canton and other Ohio (federal) based governments have admitted expending:
  • $10 million through the Ohio Facilities Commission (2014)
  • $5 million (via bonding), Canton
  • $200,000 for the US-DOT/ODOT financed study just staffed with Bennett Fleming,
  • $250,000 from Ohio government to finance HOF-VP corridor to downtown Canton study,
  • $68,559.03 in interest debt servicing annually,
  • $44,480.00 (through 11/30/2017) in outside legal fees (Soares, Black, McCuskey)
Of course, all Stark Countians including the SCPR wish the HOF-VP well and want it to succeed as envisioned.

But when one is dealing with taxpayer funding departments of government, one has to be judicious as to how local government workforce is appropriated to various activities that any government (federal, state or local) undertakes.

Accordingly, the SCPR appears to be the only journalist effort to take a dispassionate look at the HOF-VP and this private sector project's use of taxpayer provided for resources.

THE CONCRETE EVIDENCE on the question of viability:

By the way, Welty owner Don Taylor (husband of Republican gubernatorial candidate Mary Taylor) has failed to respond to two inquiries made by the SCPR for current information on the status of the demands of the letter being satisfied.

On the basis of discussions with various highly credible Stark Countians in a position to know, the SCPR believes that the Welty Builders example is only a part of a much larger picture of the precarious/teetering-on-the-brink-of-collapse private financing that may be the reality that HOF-VP CEO C. David Baker has to wake up to each and every morning.

Another evidentiary indication of trouble in the continuation of construction at the HOF-VP complex:

Mind you the ballyhooed hotel project at the village is supposed to be underway having been advertised as starting in September, 2017

Of course, nobody knows for sure about private financing status because Baker and friends are keeping the private sector financing picture within a tight, tight, tight "our lips are sealed" circle that includes, perhaps, Stark County's only countywide newspaper publisher James Porter.

That Porter appears to be "knee-deep" in the knowing the uphill climb that the HOF-VP folks face in pulling off a literal miracle in bringing the original HOF-VP project to fruition is significant because of this:


The Report has a report that the hotel phase of the HOF-VP is completely shut down.  A least one Stark County builder/developer has noted that all the equipment of the contractor(s) working on the hotel has been removed.

Baker is said to be "irate" over the pullout of the heavy equipment.

Obviously, there could be other reasons than contractors may not being paid as work is completed.

But that developer referred to above apparently thinks the removal is because there is not adequate financing in place to complete the hotel, which, according to HOF-VP officialdom was to have become "full steam ahead"in September, 2017.

Stark County leadership eyebrows began to raise when during a two week wind in early December the weather was just fine (as contrasted to the last week or so) for construction to being at full force.

There have been reports that Welty Building is not the only contractor to experience getting paid for work being done on the HOF-VP and there have been reports that there have been "walk-off-the-job" disputes since the "rehab the Don Benson Stadium 'turns out to be about $150 million" (compared to an initial $24 million estimate) effort started several years ago.

At a October 31, 2017 meeting of the Stark County Port Authority, it was reported in the meeting that HOF-VP contractors were owed some $24 million.

Moreover, area media reports say that key contractor Stu Lichter (IRG) has taken about a $53 million owner equity stake in the stadium project.

If the HOF-VP project only involved private sector financing money, then that HOF-VP officialdom is not very forthcoming on project viability/accountability is a non-issue.

But when your tax dollar and my tax dollar might be going "down-the-drain" and we might only learn about it "after-the-fact" is completely unacceptable.

Stark County political subdivision local officials have a "fiduciary duty" to protect the taxpaying public from an unreasonable risk in investing taxpayer money in any venture.

More and more, Stark Countians should be demanding that we the taxpayers need to know the exact amount of public money is at risk in the HOF-VP!

The SCPR is committed to digging that information out "before-the-fact" rather than "after-the-fact!!!"

No comments: