YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — The announcement came at Monday’s meeting of Youngstown City Council.
Pittsburgh-based developer Tony Mazzarini withdrew his proposal to develop 802 Elm Street, bordering Youngstown State University’s campus on the North Side.
It came two weeks after council decided to delay a vote on a $2 million dollar loan to help fund the project.
“Council’s decision blindsided the developer when there was absolutely no indication that there were any concerns with the project,” economic development director Sharon Woodberry told council.
From 2005-2019, the building at 802 Elm Street was owned by Rod Coonce and his partner. The building is at the intersection of Elm and Madison Avenue.
It housed the Dorian Book store, a florist shop, apartments and was the setting for the once-popular “Music at Madison” concerts.
Mazzarini’s proposal was to spend $2.6 million to buy the building, make the first floor a market and renovate the upstairs apartments.
“I liked the project, I liked the city, I liked the opportunity,” said Mazzarini. “I fell in love with the area.”
But as word spread that the city was considering the loan, Coonce decided to call certain members of city council and alert them.
“I have two words for this,” said Coonce. “Chill Can. Let’s not make another mistake.”
By 2019, Coonce said he owed back taxes on 802 Elm. “It was scheduled for a possible foreclosure,” he said.
The building was eventually sold to a group that included a relative of Coonce’s. Coonce signed a deal, thinking it was a partnership, only to later “be evicted.”
Coonce filed a lawsuit and lost.
“I was the sucker. I understand that. I made a mistake.”
According to the Mahoning County Auditor’s website, the building is now owned by Eggbert Properties, LLC, of Chagrin Falls, Ohio.
When Coonce heard some of the same people were involved in the project to redevelop 802 Elm Street, he made the calls to the council members.
“I said, ‘Please just vet this. Be very careful with it. If it works out, it works out. I don’t have any ill feelings. I just don’t want to see anybody get screwed again more than I did.'”
At a Dec. 2 city council meeting, at which a vote to approve the $2 million dollar loan was to be taken, and after Coonce’s calls were made, council decided to delay the vote until the project could be heard by the community planning and economic development committee.
It was shortly after the Dec. 2 meeting that Mazzarini ended his involvement in the project.
“I told my staff ‘We should really take a hard look at this,'” Mazzarini said. “The timing was important. I hoped to get started in January, get the interior work done first, then come spring finish the project and be ready to open come summer.”
But council’s decision to delay the vote was not the only issue. Mazzarini said every estimate he was getting was “30-50% higher” than what he’d expected.
Mazzarini also said promises were made that weren’t kept. He was told there were “lots of other places he could get [financial] help. But it didn’t materialize.”
Mazzarini specifically mentioned he was told money could come from federal “farm-to-shelf” programs. “But it never came to be,” he said. “No one ever came knocking.”
On going forward with the project, Mazzarini said, “It just wasn’t going to work out.”
At Monday’s meeting, Woodberry told city council members she wished they would have approached her first with their concerns.
Woodberry said the city has now lost the income tax on the wages from the market and the construction, and Premier Bank — which was backing the loan — was unable to close on a deal that it had spent a lot of time on.
“It is a detriment to the city if we lose confidence from the developers and the local financial institutions that support them,” Woodberry told council.
But councilman Julius Oliver said council members were never informed there was “a timeline.” They were never told pass it now or the project’s dead.
“If the developer felt like they needed to pull out of the deal because they felt some type of way about council wanting to discuss it more, that’s on the developer,” said Oliver. “The developer killed this deal.”
Coonce said he’s not disappointed the project fell, and he would still like to see his former building put back into use once again.
“I would love to see this beautiful building restored,” Coonce said.
Tony Mazzarini said he put a lot of time and money into the project but he said sometimes, “You just have to walk away.”
When asked if he would ever reconsider the project, he didn’t say no. “But not until there’s some kind of normalcy,” he said.