Friday, March 30, 2018



NOTE:  Despite the positive outlook the SCPR has on the functioning in the interests of "taxpaying" Stark Countians on the part of the Stark Port Authority, The Report has learned since writing the original blog that the Authority had he opportunity before stadium construction began to require Welty Construction (the HOF-VP general contractor) to post a Performance Bond which, had the Port Authority done so, would have provided the financial resources needed to and specifically dedicated to pay unpaid contractor bills on the failure of the master developer and his HOF partner to have placed those funds with Welty.

While the SCPR still thinks positively of the Port Authority, its having "faith" in Lichter/Baker has proved unwarranted and is a "never again" lesson for Roger Mann et al.

Some journalists cover the serious side of public life.  Others cover  "splash and dash" stuff.

At about the same time Thursday morning, two Pro Football Hall of Fame matters were up for public discussion.

The Stark County Port Authority (located on 3rd Street, SE in Canton) held its regular monthly meeting at which its board discussed whether or not it should ultimately approve an $11 million Hall of Fame Village Project (HOF-VP) bond being contemplated by the Summit County Port Authority.

The Professional Pro Football Hall of Fame (HOF)  held a campaign-style rally at 2121 Halas Drive in an effort to convince the National Football League (NFL) to hold an almost meaningless last day of  the NFL's annual three day college draft in Canton at the HOF complex.

For The Stark County Political Report (SCPR, The Report) being a one per operation, attending meant choosing one or the other.

For The Canton Repository, with it bevy of reporters, it was a matter of sending someone some three or four blocks to the Port Authority's meeting location.

For the SCPR it was a "no brainer," the substantive over the propagandistic.

For The Rep it appears that the editors at 500 Market Avenue, South it meant keeping your billing as being "the official newspaper of the Professional Football Hall of Fame" in good standing.

It is hard to believe that Stark Countians will pay subscription money for this kind of coverage.

Even the photos The Rep published of yesterday's "pep rally" showed a zoomed in effect obviously to give the impression of a large crowd.

Had the SCPR been there, readers would have gotten both the close up and the zoomed out picture of those attending.

BUT FOR the SCPR, a highly significant discussion, word-for-word, on the $11 million proposal would be missing to the Stark County public as a resource in evaluating the viability and accountability of the HOF-VP.

Interesting, no?  A no-paid-subscription/no advertising blogger cares more about the serious over the silly.  Hmm?

There is an argument to be made that The Stark County Port Authority is the main and, perhaps, the only "effective" governmental scrutinizer of the HOF Village LLC's (a joint enterprise of master developer Stu Lichter 's Industrial Realty Group [IRG] and the National Football Museum Inc. [dba Pro Football Hall of Fame]) drive to get as many Ohio/Stark County taxpayer dollars into the "financially" poorly planned Profession Football Hall of Fame expansion project.

It seems to the SCPR that Canton's city government, the Canton City Schools, the state of Ohio has not done, is not doing adequate "due diligence" on the HOF-VP in protection of taxpayer interests.

It may be that there are a number of Kevin Fisher copy cats in the sense of being uncritical of the lack of adequate financial planning before the fact by Baker and his administrative support staff on the viability and public accountability for taxpayer dollars.

Compared to Fisher, the SCPR has done mountains more of analytical work on the viability of the HOF-VP.  But being the analytical lightweight he is proving to be, Fisher thinks that he is nonetheless qualified to render a credible opinion on the the HOF-VP mater.

If memory serves correctly, Fisher is a McKinley Bulldog over-the-top football enthusiast who likely glories in his beloved Bulldogs playing a few games a year in $150, $171 or, perhaps, in end $250 million "best in all of America" per David Baker football stadium.

Maybe just maybe Fisher as councilman voted for Canton government programs, projects and employment issues that at least partially put Canton in its present day financial bind?

Fisher as a former city councilman liked to portray himself a "the studious one"  who embraced "the people's interest" as a self-characterization.

But that was all lost on the SCPR when he teamed off with Frank Morris to undermine the effort to bring charter government to Canton government as seen above in a blog on the games Fisher played with other councilpersons.

There is nothing analytical about Kevin Fisher.  He is even as a relatively younger person seems quite adept at "old school politics."

Locally, only the Stark County commissioners through its economic development arm (i.e. the Stark County Port Authority) are protecting the taxpayers' interests.

In the runup to the HOF Village LLC's getting up to $100 million (the first tranche being about $39 million), HOF CEO/president C. David Baker was running around town telling anyone who would listen that the reason that mostly local contractors on the Tom Benson Stadium phase of Baker's phantasmagoric dream not getting paid $8 million, more or less, was the fault of the Stark County commissioners.

"Fake News!" Mr. Baker?

The truth of the matter?

The Stark County Port Authority (appointed by the commissioners) and the Canton City Schools Board of Education were the "due diligence" factors in holding off granting "certificates of estoppel" so that HOF Village LLC's prospective lender would close on the stop-gap (six to twelve month at a "interest" cost of some $2.5 to $5 million).

A source tells the SCPR thinks that the CCS got bamboozled by the HOF Village LLC folks in that when one analyzes the payments called for in the agreement between the two against charge backs by HOF Village LLC for facilities use et cetera, the schools will net a lot less than a superficial reading the the agreement might yield.

The SCPR hears no such criticism of the the Stark County Port Authority.

The entire Port Authority board meeting can be accessed in the Appendix section of this blog at the end.  The discussion on the HOF-VP matter picks up at about 6:40 on the video playback.

For those readers who do not want to wade through most of the 40 minute meeting, here are highlights edited out by the SCPR.

The overall take-away by The Report is a pronounced caution and a seeming emphasis on "no liability to the Port Authority" attitude on the part of Chairman  Roger Mann.  Readers need to keep in mind that the Port Authority board members are high quality financially attuned persons who are solidly conservative in fiscal approach.

None of them would ever, ever, ever embark on a HOF-VP-esque project without having crossed their "t's" and dotted their "i's" before going public.  Something, obviously, Baker and Lichter did not do.

In the first SCPR video excerpt Port Authority administrator Dan Talarcek introduces Don Hart of Stern Brothers as the Port Authority's bond analysis expert.

The POA consideration of this matter is a revisitation from 2017 not acted upon by the Authority of a prior consideration which is further evidence that the HOF Village folks have an awfully difficult time getting their "financial ducks 'all-lined-up-in-a-row.'"

In this initial video note that Hart focuses on "non-recourse" factor in the agreements entailed in the Stark Port Authority's participation in these matters.  At various times in the replay of the following video excerpts note the preoccupation with Port Authority financial vulnerability.

In this video segment, note Hart's "no risk whatsoever" assurances to Port Authority board members.

For those readers who want the details of the bond proposal, here it goes;

It was a tad disturbing to the SCPR that Hart, the expert, did not recall, presumably thoroughly examined the document that there is a prospective buyer of the $11 million bond.

Why would Cuyahoga River Capital, LLC be willing to provide $11 million much of which goes to Stu Lichter's benefit as reimbursement for advances made on the stadium.

Here is the answer.  It is high interest rate that the $11 million will bring.

Certainly beats this, no?

Let's see a maximum of  Port Authorities issued bonds at a maximum of 7.55% versus the Treasury at 2.975%.  Hmm?  Think the might be some concern that the HOF-VP might have to be scaled down considerably and a dip TIF revenues might jeopardize payoff of the bond?

Otherwise, in attending the Port Authority meeting of yesterday, the SCPR was well taken with the scope and depth of due diligence that the Authority is taking in considering whether or not the approve the issuance by an equivalent Summit County Port Authority entity of an $11 million bond.

Hart in the following SCPR video excerpt reassures PA board members that there are internal to the bond agreement "checks and balances" whereby there are protections against, in the words of PA chair Mann, a "misuse of bond proceeds."

Given the documented history of HOF Village LLC of not paying contractors for work done on the stadium project, here is Hart again reassuring Chairman Mann that he Port Authority has nothing to worry about.

Board member Brant Luther of the Stark County commissioners offices is seen in this video asking for an affirmation of his understanding of what the bond is all about.  Moreover, Luther's questions promotes a discussion of Stark County auditor Alan Harold's role in valuing he "subject to TIFF" property and the continue "approval" status role of Canton City schools.

The SCPR has heard concern from various Stark County political subdivision officials that Harold is so "gung-ho" HOF-VP that he may not have the capacity to perform his role objectively.

As said frequently by this blogger, if the HOF Village LLC folks want to jeopardize private sector money going into the HOF-VP, then, let them have at it.  These financiers are big girls and boys and if they get burnt by the likes of a C. David Baker and his "everything's coming up roses, when, in reality, they aren't," then Godspeed to them.  It's their money.  Of course, if they want to "unduly" risk losing it, by all means.  Big gains, big loses is all part of speculating, no?

But when it comes to taxpayer provided money, such makes it whole different ball game.

A lesson the Lichter and Baker seem to be totally disregarding.

The private sector, especially on sport facility projects, lobby public officials to bring the taxpayers "kicking and screaming" into private projects with little if any accountability for how tax dollars are managed and put to effective use in terms of clear financial/economic benefits for everyday Stark Countians/Ohioans and Americans.

Some think that the likes of Stu Lichter largely owe their personal wealth to having successfully figured out the formula of how to get into the public piggy bank.  Many if not most public figures are no match to the likes of Lichter who has a skill of making them think that he is some kind of miracle worker in acquiring capital properties for next to nothing and then rehab them to the extent that public funding is available.

All one has to do is look no further than North Canton and it Hoover project.  Phase I and the availability of "public" money, no problem it gets completed.  In fact, Mayor Held says Phase I was a huge success.

Phase II and the drying of public money and/or alleged shifting around of public money to other Lichter or Lichter connected projects and the project gets stopped in its tracks.

From a New York Times piece of Wednesday:  (Republished in yesterday Plain Dealer but, of course, not a word of in The Rep).
Developers were supposed to complete the second, much larger, phase of the project -- which would include housing, restaurants and retail -- by the end of 2015, but it is nowhere near done. Held said the developers conducted "a lot of promotion of the project, but they would start, and stop, and start, and stop." He spent the end of 2017 imploring the developers to remove plywood from empty windows and put in glass, to make the site less of an eyesore, and to bring the buildings that had received work in compliance with building codes. 
The $50 million second phase was supposed to be funded, at least in part, with $36 million from a federal program.
CMB Infrastructure Investment Group, which invested $36 million in the project, filed a lawsuit against Maple Street Investors and Lichter in 2016, claiming they violated federal rules governing the funding.
According to the complaint, just two days after receiving the funds, Maple Street Investors "diverted at least $25,000,000 of the Loan proceeds." CMB argued the $25 million went to intermediaries and was eventually lent to IRG, to complete the development of a former Goodyear campus in nearby Akron, Ohio.
In court documents, Lichter's lawyers said $19.8 million of the money went to a company controlled solely by Lichter, and $16.2 million to a company controlled solely by Christopher Semarjian, one of his partners in the Hoover project. The lawyers could not provide a full accounting of the money because it was "commingled with unrelated funds," but they said in court documents the two companies have continued to repay Maple Street Investors, which Lichter said CMB's chief executive told him was allowed.
As Mayor David Held of North Canton has learned, he too, becomes the subject (as the Stark County commissioners in C. David Baker's accusation) of a Lichter telling all who will listen is that all Held has to do is call him.

What a "tragic" laugh.  Numerous North Canton officials have been in touch with Lichter.  All to no avail except getting windows replaced for plywood on the Main Street side of the Hoover building.


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