Monday, February 12, 2018


UPDATED:  11:30 AM

Of course all Stark Countians hope that the upwards of $1 billion Pro Football Hall of Fame Village Project (HOF-VP) announced in 2014 will come to fruition.

But to be realistic, it most certainly ought to be dawning on the dreamers who are holding fast to the hope that the project is a Canton/Stark County pathway to financial/economic development NIRVANA that the dream is nothing more than a hope and a prayer and just like the Alaska "Bridge to Nowhere" advanced by its proponents in 2006 and killed off in 2015.

The Stark County Political Report (SCPR) has been projecting the final cost of of his "dream" or, perhaps, "nightmare" to be at least $1 billion (without any insider knowledge) is now be admitted by HOF-VP president/CEO C. David Baker.

And, initially, it looked like a proverbial "no-brainer" in that it truly appeared to be if you were spellbound by the highly charismatic Baker to be "pie-in-the-sky" heralded by 75 trombones (remember "The Music Man") leading the BIG parade!

Especially in light of developer Stu Lichter saying this:

Financing, through a mix of traditional, philanthropic and public funding sources, to this point has not been an issue

As Lichter and Baker have presented the project to groups and investors, the reception has been positive. 

Lichter likened it to having the opportunity to choose which kind of financing to complete the project. 

“The issue isn’t, ‘Can we get the capital?’” Lichter said. “It’s, ’Can we get the capital at a cost that makes sense?”  (large font emphasis added)

Reading Porter's puff piece and lobbed "soft ball" questions does have enough material that cried out for a journalistic "due diligence" examination of the responding puffery handed out in spades by Pro Football Hall of Fame (HOF-VP) president and CEO C. David Baker and "master" developer Stuart Lichter  of Industrial Realty Group, LLC.

But it appears to The Stark County Political Report (SCPR) that Porter (at heart nothing more than a sports reporter enthusiast and reportedly a relative of the publisher of The Repository; namely, one James Porter) has never, ever done a critical analysis of some of the statements made by Baker/Lichter and the basis of which, even here within Stark County, there was at the time of Porter's writing easily obtainable information that suggested that all was not like "falling off a wet log" on the matter of financing as indicated by words right out of Stu Licher's very own mouth as cited above.

One Todd Porter's associates reported on a recent "special" called meeting by the Stark County Port Authority on Thursday past obviously called because of the public outcry of those local companies owed millions of dollars by the HOF-VP associated entities.

In that Friday article there is this:  (Note:  The SCPR could not attend because of being in Hawaii)

The Stark County Port Authority met Thursday to discuss financing for Johnson Controls Hall of Fame Village and said a loan proposal in the works not only would pay off the liens local contractors have filed since building Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, but also would provide millions of dollars toward future construction.

Village developers are finalizing a one-year bridge loan agreement that would cover the outstanding costs from the stadium ...

The SCPR thinks the either the reporter failed to dig deeper into the unanswered questions or did and the executive leadership that runs The Repository would not print the deeper reporting.

The Report's impression is that the reporter generally is thorough in reporting done and it is the latter rather than the former.

The SCPR thinks that such was bound to happen given The Repository's gladly and enthusiastically taking on the mantra-esque phrase for The Rep.  "THE OFFICIAL NEWSPAPER OF THE PRO FOOTBALL HALL OF FAME."

Despite protestations that it could separate business from the editorial/reporting content in The Rep; the SCPR is not buying.   Anything published by The Rep on the HOF-VP, this writer thinks, deserves special scrutiny.

For instance, in Porter's piece Lichter tells Porter as they speak Maple Street Commerce LLC (MSC) is proceeding in completing North Canton's Hoover complex rehab.

Easy enough to check out how MSC is doing in North Canton, no?

On January 22nd, North Canton government sent MSC a letter of "non-compliance," to wit:

And this:  (LINK to underlying article)

North Canton officialdom is not optimistic that MSC will comply as demanded and expects that the matter will end up in court.

The HOF-VP and Repository bigs must think that the general Stark County public simply cannot count.

Let's see.

Now the cost of the high school football stadium gone professional has gone since 2015 from $24 million to $80 million to $100 million to $150 million and now to $150 million PLUS which one source tells the SCPR the source thinks is about $170 million.

Remember when New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson put $11 million towards the rehab of the stadium what a hullabaloo The Rep made of it?

Remember when Johnson Controls stepped in and made a multiyear pledge what a headliner that was?  (November, 2016)

$100,000,000 over 18 years which averages out to about $556,000 annually.

Because of "private-sector" secrecy of the HOF-VP, nobody knows how much Johnson Controls has put in to the project.

Let's say that it is about $750,000.

How does that square with the amount owed local contractors?

Not very well!

As the SCPR has reported in the 12th blog in this series (way before The Repository) The M. Klein Company is busy at work trying to stave off financial collapse of the HOF-VP

The SCPR hears that there is possibly another $6 million out there in debt to companies doing work on the HOF-VP that has not yet been made public.

And of course there is the city of Canton's $5 million that apparently went into what is likely a $170 million football stadium which, of course, cannot carry its own weight in terms of recovering its capital cost over many, many, many lifetimes of future generations of Stark Countians to say nothing of ongoing maintenance and operations costs and perhaps 5/10/15 years down the road the need to put in a "new" state of the art "hi-tech" glorified score/game stats board just to keep up with what the professional football's expectations.

Undoubtedly, most of the money paid so far on the construction of the stadium is in the form of short-term loans which appear to being kept out of public view even though the project is getting public money.

So now, we are supposed to believe that a  $100 million plus "bridge loan" from a company that seems to have some kind of connection from master developer Stu Lichter (i.e, Lichter's company IRG shares the same building with the mortgage company arranging for a "temporary" [i.e. bridge]loan) is going to solve the long term financial woes of the HOF-VP?

Better reasoning is not that there will be money to spare after contractors (and the city of Canton [some $350,000] are paid but that all those "unknown" lenders, whomever they may be, are in line to soak up most if not all that "bridge" loan of $100 million plus, no?

So, so, so sad!

The thought that The Repository leadership might not be inclined (in light of being the "official newspaper of the Pro Football Hall of Fame") to encourage the vetting HOF-VP connected interviewees ought to be quite disturbing to Stark Countians.

Perhaps even more troubling is that there may be a core of Stark County political subdivision officials who make decisions on spending taxpayer funds (or foregoing tax revenues, e.g. the use of the Stark County Port Authority to legally avoid imposition of Stark County's Justice System Sales Tax; [JSST]) who may not have exercised "due diligence" in determining the viability/accountability of the HOF-VP and concomitantly whether or not it was/is worth the risk of putting taxpayer money in jeopardy.

The Report has asked a county official for a dollar figure for the loss that the JSST will sustain as a consequence of the Port Authority maneuver.

Answer?  The county has no way in terms of having the necessary purchase information of items subject to the tax to determine the loss.

Wouldn't you think that the county commissioners/Port Authority officials would have required an accounting of how much "taxable" material is being purchased and the equivalency in lost income to the Justice System Sales Tax to Stark's justice system of which the Stark County sheriff's operations is a large part of?

In light of documented financing difficulties (i.e. the Welty letter, the Hilscher-Clarke communication copies of which have been published in prior SCPR blogs) that the HOF-VP project is currently experiencing, it is hard to believe that Canton government and Stark County government (nearly two years ago now) sufficiently vetted the viability of the project.

It appears that Canton and Stark County is so desperate for meaningful economic development that they may have communicated a vulnerability to a project that was from the beginning (notwithstanding Lichter's assurances to the contrary) of questionable project viability and made worse by HOF-VP officials being non-transparent and therefore not accountable for taxpayer money the project has received and is slated to receive going forward.

If such was the case, then Baker and Lichter seem to have taken full advantage of the desperateness, no?

Now there is talk that there is discussion of Lichter being removed as "master" developer.

The $7 million or so of documented debt unpaid by the HOF-VP may well be a major factor in impeding the passage of a Canton ballot measure for a 1/2 percent increase in the city income tax.

Of the monies owed by the HOF-VP is some $350,000 of unreimbursed to the city of Canton monies paid in 2017 for safety services rendered to HOF events.

Depending when they are installed, the amount due Canton could jump to upwards of $500,000 when "fancy" HOF-VP insisted upon street lighting (examples at Market Ave, North and 12th Street) are installed in the vicinity of the HOF complex.

Mayor Thomas M. Bernabei has said numerous times that none of the additional revenues will be going to the HOF-VP directly but only to do work on the corridor from the HOF to downtown Canton.

It highly predictable that as the proponents of passage of the 1/2 percent increase "hit the streets" in campaign mode, they will be challenged on why Cantonians should pass a sorely needed income tax increase while the city is owed some $350,000 in unreimbursed HOF city safety services provided?

The SCPR has talked with Canton law director Joe Martuccio about the debt and he says that he will not say what might or what might not be in the offing on collecting the $350,000 because he has not had "privileged" attorney/client discussions with his clients Canton City Council and the mayor.

Wouldn't it be ashamed that the levy fails because of such a factor?

Mayor Bernabei has been getting a number of citizens express concerns about more Canton taxpayer money going into the HOF-VP to say nothing of the $350,000 it is now owed and of course the time and effort being expended by the likes of Sam Sliman (annexation director) and others which takes away from their ability to work non-HOF-VP aspects of Canton government.

The real concern that local public officials ought to be asking themselves about is whether or not Stark County political subdivision entities are going to be "left holding the bag" should the project come up short at whatever stage HOF-VP officials "throw in the towel" and "call a halt" to what seems to be a case of C. David Baker convincing "starry-eyed" locals that there is a "tooth-fairy" and all has to do is put a tooth under a pillow and it turns into gold.

Of all the Port Authority officials, only one (according to newspaper reports of the meeting) asked a meaningful question, to wit:

During Thursday’s meeting, board member Susie Steiner asked how costs were able to skyrocket with someone monitoring the project.

Answer:  The monitors (local government officials and the "official" newspaper) have been stargazing and/or hypnotized by the highly charismatic C. David Baker.

For the "duh" observation of the Port Authority Thursday past meeting, check out chairman Roger Mann:

“Just look at the stadium,” 

Yes, Roger we have been.

First $24 million, then $80 million, then $100 million, then $150 million and now $170 million?

Hopefully, the Port Authority will meet after after the SCPR returns to the county by mid-March.

Maybe, just maybe, there will be just a tad difference in what gets published about the meeting?

Here is a list of SCPR blogs done in this series together with two blogs on Strengthening Stark.

No comments: