EAST LIVERPOOL-The city's Community Improvement Corporation Finance Committee voted Thursday to donate $60,000 to the Vision 20/20 project to revitalize the city.
The community improvement firm Better Cities LLC has been working with city officials for the last six months to devise a strategy to revive the city in a project coined Vision 20/20.
Before approving the donation, CIC members were given an update on the progress of the project and its plans for the future by Safety-Service Director Ryan Estell and President of the City Chamber of Commerce Todd Alexander, who have helped head up the project.
Estell admitted that he and other leaders of the project have been deliberately quiet about it, because they hoped to avoid the familiar cycle of hyping up a potential project only to deal the community the disappointment of having it not come to fruition.
"There has been a number of projects over the years where people come right out from the very beginning and shout, 'This is what we're doing', and then when it doesn't come through, people have negative feelings and don't want to push for anything new," said Estell. "We wanted to avoid that as much as possible by waiting until we knew we had a successful project ready to go before we started talking about it, and we feel that we're at that phase now."
Estell and Alexander both noted that one of the project's primary focuses will be to revitalize the downtown area by first finding new ways to attract people into the city. To that end, Estell told CIC members the Vision 20/20 project envisions downtown East Liverpool reinventing itself as an entertainment hub. He noted that the city currently sits in the middle of what he called 'entertainment zones' in places like Boardman and Monaca, however, area people have to drive a long way just to go to these places.
Estell and Alexander told the CIC the project hopes to attract those area people into the downtown with a multi screen theater complex. Alexander noted the prospect of bringing a theater to downtown had moved beyond the "investigation phase" to having "interested parties" serious about coming to the city.
In addition to a theater, Alexander spoke of bringing a "larger scale hotel entity" to the downtown. Alexander told the CIC that several major hotel chains have shown an interest in locating in the downtown. He called attracting a hotel to the downtown a "first phase project" necessary to kick start the local economy.
Lastly, Alexander and Estell spoke of establishing a charter school in the city, calling it "phase 3" of the Vision 20/20 project. They told CIC members the charter school would still be part of the East Liverpool School District and geared towards bringing new students and their families to the area. They compared their strategy for the charter school to that of a performing arts charter school in Midland, Pa., citing a need for the school to specialize in one area.
"The focus for this school would be athletics," said Estell. "From early on athletics is something nearly everyone brought up to us as something to strengthen the community." He went on to cite the Ohio Valley's thriving sports culture as an indication an athletics oriented charter school would be successful in the city.
He also spoke of building a field house, noting that this would be another way to bring people into the city by hosting events and leasing it out to different groups.
Both men contended that the area's growing shale industry will help power the city's economic rebound.
"There has to be a way to capture the newfound income that will be generated by those new workers and new jobs coming to the area," said Estell. He explained that as the shale industry grows so will the demand for housing and entertainment. Estell emphasized that with the city located in the middle of "80 percent" of the shale activity there is tremendous potential for the city to capitalize on the boom.
Estell and Alexander ended their explanation of the Vision 20/20 project by telling the CIC they needed further funding to continue the effort and to show other potential donors that the project is serious about its mission to revitalize the city.
"There have been several people who have expressed a willingness to donate, but they have expressed an interest in seeing someone else take the lead in showing that support by making a match for the those donations," said Estell. "We'll have between 60,000 and 50,000 dollars in pledges if we can find matching funds for those pledges, which is why we've come to this body hoping you can see fit to give a donation to help promote this project."
CIC members were generally in favor of the idea of making the donation with many members stating that the city is in bad shape and drastic measures need to be taken to revive it.
"We have to do something drastic to bring downtown back and bring people back to the city," said CIC member Pat Scafide.
CIC member Fred Kane disagreed with donating to Vision 20/20 project saying he did not see how the CIC's donation would reciprocate back to city and that he would rather see the city improve its appearance in a effort to attract people.
"We need to get rid of some of the blight and that will help bring people back here," said Kane
Kane also said he was uncomfortable donating roughly a quarter of the CIC's approximate 200,000 dollar balance to the project. The other members disagreed and after reviewing the CIC's financial statement they voted 7-1 to approve a donation of 60,000 dollars to the Vision 20/20 project, with Kane casting the sole no vote. Scafide noted the final decision regarding the donation will be left to the CIC's Board of Trustees at a meeting some time next week.
Members said they felt the donation was the right thing to do considering the mission of the CIC is to improve the community.
"I think this project represents what the CIC is supposed to be involved in: trying to come up with ways to improve our community by creating more jobs and making people want to move here," said CIC member Sherrie Curtis.