YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — A lawyer for the company that owns the vacant Chill-Can plant argued Thursday before a magistrate in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court that they should not have to pay Youngstown $1.5 million in grant money that the city gave them for the project.

Arguing before Magistrate Dennis Sarisky on behalf of MJ Joseph Development Corp., attorney Brian Kopp said the return of the grant funds was not in the original contract the city signed when the complex on the East Side between the Himrod Avenue and Madison Avenue expressways was developed and that the project has not been able to get started because of labor and supply shortages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Answering for the city, attorney Thomas Hall of Manchester & Bennett said the city is entitled to the return of the funds because the plant failed to live up to its plans to be up and operating with 237 people working there.

Hall said the plant was supposed to be open well in advance of the pandemic and the jobs were supposed to be there also well before the pandemic.

“They didn’t even come close,” Hall said. “It’s been years of just sitting there.”

The plant has been vacant since land was broken for the project in 2016. Several people who lived there moved after their property was purchased for the project.

The city filed a lawsuit in May 2021 to get back city funds that were used for the project.

Kopp told Magistrate Sarisky that the contract the city signed for the contract does not contain a clause that allows them to recoup the grant funds. Hall countered that the city is entitled to more than one form of compensation if the contract is breached and it is common in those types of contracts to leave the restitution open-ended.

Kopp said the terms of the contract were met in 2017 by the developers, but Hall disputed that, saying the 237 jobs promised were never created and the plant is not even close to being able to operate.

Magistrate Sarisky said he will study the law and the documents submitted by both sides and hopes to make a ruling shortly.