BOARDMAN — The redevelopment of Southern Park Mall has become a flash point for concerns about what some Boardman residents want for the future of their township.
At a public meeting Monday, community frustration boiled over when resident Mike Sprague stood up and yelled, "You're making decisions, and we're not part of it!"
About 30 residents attended the rare 9:30 a.m. meeting in which trustees designated Southern Park Mall a Community Entertainment District. Prior to the vote, multiple public comments pleaded with trustees to delay the process until more specific plans are known.
So far, WPG announced that one new tenant is Steel Valley Brew Works, owned by Stonefruit Coffee operator Josh Langenheim. The mall owner also plans to bring in a golf simulation venue. The redevelopment will also include the creation of outdoor greenspace in the place of the former Sears building, called DeBartolo Commons.
The CED designation is just one economic development tool mall owner Washington Prime Group intends to use. It would provide the mall with five liquor licenses without requiring incoming restaurants to acquire them through traditional means. Unlike other means of acquiring a liquor license, liquor licenses acquired through the CED cannot be transfered, sold or used outside the CED designation.
Earlier this month, the Boardman Local School Board voted to approve a Community Reinvestment Area agreement with WPG. The agreement, which must be approved by Mahoning County Board of Commissioners, exempts the company from having to pay property taxes on the assessed value of new structures at the site for 15 years.
WPG is also requesting the creation of a Joint Economic Development District, which would allow Boardman and another community to levy an income tax on new employees of the mall.
Through these measures, WPG intends to recoup about $6 million of the $30 million redevelopment project.
But residents concerned by multiple floods and an increasing tax burden question whether providing incentives to the company is in the best interest of taxpayers. Several times throughout the meeting, trustee Larry Moliterno reminded residents that the mall's failure could be catastrophic for the township.
The financial health of WPG also came into question at Monday's meeting. On Dec. 17, Moody's Investors Service downgraded Washington Prime Group's ratings from stable to negative, and it's no secret that malls are shuttering across the country.
"You act like they don't have any skin in the game," said fiscal officer William Leicht.
Southern Park Mall is not WPG's first redevelopment project. The compant owns 107 properties, including Great Lakes Mall in Mentor. The site's revamp brought new anchors like Planet Fitness and Ohio's first Round1, an entertainment center with a bowling alley and arcade.
"I think we should be excited," said Moliterno.
To secure the CED designation, WPG must now get approval from the state liquor board.