Saturday, January 6, 2018




APRIL 5, 2016

It was no surprise to The Stark County Political Report when, on January 3rd, The Report learned that mechanic liens had been filed (the first actually on January 2nd, the very next day after Monday, January 1st, New Years Day) with the Stark County recorder against various property interest holders in connection with the Pro Football Hall of Fame-Village (Expansion) Project (HOF-VP).

Ironically, the filing of the liens pretty much coincide to the day (January 2, 2014) when visionary economical development guru C. David Baker was brought to Canton by the Pro Football Hall of Fame board of trustees (see this LINK for listing of current trustees/officers) to enliven and expand the appeal across America of the Canton-sited Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Interesting enough, only three days after Baker's arrival, so-called Brownfield economic development expert Stu Lichter owner of Industrial Realty Group was meeting with Baker.

Who brought Lichter in?

Here is a SCPR developed spreadsheet listing of the liens filed last week:


$5.7 million in recorded liens in the midst of reports that upwards of $31 million is owed for work done on the Tom Benson Stadium, the most outstanding football stadium in all of the United States of America, including Alaska and Hawaii, the latter of which The Report is heading to on Sunday, January 14th).

And here is a list of those local government and other interests potentially reached financial adversely should the HOF go belly up:
  • First of all, of course, the companies filing the liens listed above, and then
  • Canton City Schools
  • Hall of Fame Village, LLC
  • Johnson Controls,
  • Stark County Port Authority
Could Tom Benson Stadium ultimately become:

The Benson, Beaver Construction, Freedom, Hilscher Clarke,  Rice, Slensky, Tycor and United Glass Stadium?

The lien filings and the reported indebtedness is quite a comedown from this May, 2015 Stark County Political Report blog:

Moreover, like former president George W. Bush with days of the apparent completion of "Operation Desert Storm" (the second war in Iraq) being on an aircraft carrier declaring victory, supersaleman C. David Baker was the star motivation performer to take the stage on April 5, 2016 at the HOF-VP facility located on George Halas Drive before nearly all of Canton's city councilpersons and declare that the HOF-VP project was no longer a vision, but rather to be described as a reality.

To get the full impact of Baker's unwarranted optimism, which, he, above anybody else, had to know had no financial basis in terms of finances (represented then as being $500 million) being in place (Johnson Controls' pledge of $100 million over years was not yet in place, and, of course, that pledge is only 10% of the nearly $1 billion many think is now needed), readers should view this short video of Baker speaking on April 5, 2016. (57 seconds)

In the foregoing video note how he slides over repeated redos of excavation (lowering the field) like it was something to joke about.

Likely the redo and the tearing down of a perfectly fine press box (except, it apparently was not grandiose enough for Baker) which certainly millions of dollars in costs to a stadium that was originally slated to cost about $24 million into one costing (by Baker's own words) into being a $150 million dollar "principally" high school football stadium.

And get this:  a high school that is largely academically failing by Ohio Department of Education standards.

Of course, the HOF-VP is being done mostly out-of-the-view of public scrutiny enough though millions of dollars of public money is invested under the cover of the project being a "non-profit" private sector enterprise.

For Ohio and Canton officials to allow public dollars to remain unaccounted for in specificity should be an outrage to taxpayers especially in light of the liens being filed.

The overriding question ought in these officials' part should be:  Should we allow one more dollar of public money ( I-77 exit improvements,  in-kind government services expenditures, and the like) to spent on a project of is showing every sign of coming up way short of the vision David Baker and his cohorts have planted in the public mind going back to the year 2014?

It seemed to the SCPR that the present Canton council members (at the April 5, 2015 meeting) and the mayor, the deputy mayor, despite Baker's disclaimer of visioning, could and perhaps did envision greenback floating down from above and into the coffers of the Canton city treasury.

Understandable that these officials would be intoxicated, no?  After all, C. David Baker is a first rate inspirational speaker, NO DOUBT ABOUT IT!

As we all with any span of life experience know, being inspirational does not convert wishes, hopes and prayers into reality.

In the light of the liens being paid, it does seem that the April 5, 2016 euphoria was maybe just a tad premature.

The Report has been hearing for months from multiple sources who obviously were part of a wide ranging collection of connected elected and unelected local government officials that the HOF-VP was in desperate financial straits in obtaining "private sector" financing to cover the costs of what is increasingly nearing the $1 billion market.

In recent blogs, the SCPR has repeatedly published a letter from Welty Building Company to IRG (aks HOF Village Stadium, LLC) which lays out in documentary evidence form that not all has been financially well with the HOF-VP for some time:

Here is a SCPR spreadsheet analysis of the letter:

The letter itself:

Back in 2015 when the expansion project was in the original "talking stages," the total cost of the expansion was projected to be $500 million, the SCPR started getting vibes that there was a lot of "huff and puff" coming out of the mouth of HOF president and CEO C. David Baker (hired January 2, 2014) and with each "huff" and "puff" the final cost figure started to escalate.

There is no doubt about it.  Baker is one of the most gifted salesman in all of America.  When he has a runny nose, he drips liquid charisma.  Not the stuff that most of us deposit in a Kleenex.

Undoubtedly, then Canton mayor William J. Healy, II thought that the HOF-VP announcement was "money-in-the-bank" for his re-election to a third term in November, 2015.

But maybe just maybe Cantonians were getting just a tad suspicious that maybe just maybe they had to wait and see on the HOF-VP and his promise of economic and financial Nirvana for all of Stark County but especially for the city of Canton.

Cantonians had heard Healy et al hype before.

Remember his gushing about the Utica shale (natural gas/oil) exploration coming to the area and how it was going to be centered in much of Stark County and administered from within Canton city limits.

In fact in his 2012 "State of the City" annual address renamed Canton as "the Utica Capital."

Here is an excerpt from a video of a press conference after the address in which Healy is beside himself with enthusiasm for the Utica thing: (2:37)

To see the entire 26 minute press conference click on this LINK.

The fact of the matter appears to be that Healy was way, way, way too optimistic about the Utica shale exploration being an economic/financial miracle for Canton and Stark County.  The Report recalls Healy saying would likely produce upwards of 50,000 Stark County and Northeast Ohio corridor jobs.

The flurry of Utica shale activity was probably a significant factor in Healy winning a second four-year-term as mayor of Canton in the 2013 elections.

However, most of the benefit has been in Carroll County and shortly after Healy's spiel major Utica shale player Chesapeake Energy relocated its administrative site from Canton to Louisville beginning in July, 2014.

As luck would have it, Healy had another promising venture surface not long before the 2015 Canton mayoralty election; namely, the HOF-VP as he prepared for a run for a third term as mayor of Canton.

In November, 2014 Canton City Council voted to finance $5 million towards the project and, as politicians, are wont to do, Healy made great fanfare at his March, 2015 HOF sited  annual "State of the City" address, to wit:

But it came too late for immediate economic/financial benefit to be realized in Canton/Stark County.

The the "too-early-to-tell" aspect of the prospects of the HOF-VP coupled with independent candidate Thomas Bernabei (a long term Democrat turned "independent" in May, 2015) making a really big deal of Canton government facing a $3 million deficit for FY 2016 probably combined to enable Bernabei to eke out a victory over Healy in November, 2015.

In the campaign, Bernabei made a really big deal out of Canton facing a $3 million general fund deficit for Fiscal Year 2016, no matter who won the race between him and Healy.

No doubt, Mayor Bernabei was as he took office on January 1, 2016 and continues to be hopeful that the HOF-VP will rescue Canton from financial and economic disaster.

One can, and the SCPR does, commiserate with the mayor and Canton City Council members (all Democrats) on their being vulnerable to be accepting uncritically, more or less, of something like the HOF-VP as a potential solution to all that ails Canton's bleak financial picture largely brought on by the national financial crisis of 2008 and the Kasich administration and the Republican dominated Ohio General Assembly beginning in 2011 and continuing to this very day state of Ohio "local government de-funding" of local government across the state.

To be sure, a significant part of Canton's current financial problems is owing to mal-mis-administration of Canton government's financial sustainability (including, mind you, a string of Republican mayors who are supposed to be more fiscally conservative/responsible than the Democratic ones) going back decades perhaps as far back as the 1960s.

But Bernabei as a public official going back many years has been much more realistic and sober in analyzing things affecting local government  that most of Stark's political subdivision officials, whether it be in the context of his having been Canton law director for many years, a short stint as Canton City councilman, a Stark County commissioner (mid December, 2010 through December 31, 2014) and now as mayor of Canton.

All the immediately foregoing commentary is to say—in short— that Canton's financial and economic plight makes it especially vulnerable for what some Stark Countians think is a set of circumstances for a 2014ish "music man" to come marching into town.
It goes without saying that all Stark Countians "hope and pray" along, apparently with president and CEO of the HOF C. David Baker that the nearly $1 billion HOF-VP expansion is "a realistic, achievable"  goal and that the filing of the liens on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of this past week are mere hiccups on the pathway for grand and glorious things for Canton and indeed all of Stark County in as little as two years.

But with the filing of the liens in light of the Welty to IRG letter, the alarm bells ought to be clanging from the bell tower of the Stark County courthouse that local government officials need to double down on protecting the Stark County taxpaying public from sinking more money into what is seeming more and more to be a sinkhole that benefits a few at the expense of many in view of  state of Ohio and city of Canton taxpayer money has been put into the project.

Could the HOF-VP's inability to pay its bills to local contractors trigger financial crises with these companies that ends up threatening their continuing existence and the jobs they provide the Stark County community?

It is a fiduciary duty of local government officials not to be blinded to the risks by an intoxicating lure that a now nearly $1 billion project presents to them.

Unfortunately, Canton/Stark County's only countywide newspaper leadership appears to be enraptured by the lure (i.e. The Repository as "the official newspaper of the Pro Football Hall of Fame") and in the view of the SCPR is not sufficiently alerting local officials in enough depth to the risks that additional government monies will be sought to bail out an overly ambitious plan to save the Canton based HOF.

Anyone can read in national publications detailing how violence saturated sports are increasingly losing favor with soccer moms who are redirecting their children to other sports participation.

Even over the heydey the Canton sited HOF as the SCPR interprets available data, the HOF has had difficulty increasing/maintaining annual HOF attendance figures, to wit:

By comparison, the College Football Hall of Fame, (located in Atlanta, GA, obviously a much larger town than Canton, Ohio), averages about 250,000 visitors per year.

Closer by in Cleveland, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame averages 500,000 visitors annually:

The SCPR believes that Baker was brought in Pro Football Hall of Fame interests (local and national) to figure out a long term survival path.  Hence, the billing of the HOF-VP becoming the "Disneyland of the Midwest."


Americans are going to supplant "Pro Football Hall of Fame" in their minds with "Disneyland of the Midwest?"

Who ever thought that the "private sector" would cough up $500 million let alone perhaps $1 billion to finance this "fanciful" project?

Now it is becoming increasingly apparent to the SCPR that forces are at play among the movers and shakers for the project (including some government officials) to ask Stark County taxpayers to ante up $20 million plus annually via a increased countywide sales tax of 1/2 cent to prevent the "too big to fail" HOF-VP project afloat.

Isn't it interesting the regularity with which professional sports connected folks look to the public sector for financing or bail out money for their "can't support themselves" entertainment enterprises.

Right here in Stark County, who thinks that in anybody's lifetime who is reading this blog that there could be enough events at the Tom Benson Stadium which C. David Baker says is a $150 million stadium?

If completed, the HOF-VP projects 3 million attendees annually which of course is a nearly ten fold increase that certainly ought to benefit Canton and all of Stark County and economically and financially.

But in light of the filing of the mechanics liens and the Welty letter and swirling speculation is there any doubt that it is a really, really, really big IF?

Links to prior blogs in this series:

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