ELO school board wants more info before signing off on TIF

EAST LIVERPOOL – Addressing the board of education via speakerphone Monday night, the head of a Utah firm outlined plans aimed at revitalizing the city.

Matthew Godfrey of Better City LLC told board members that, since being hired by City Council, his firm has worked the past six months with city officials, chamber of commerce members and citizens to devise a plan.

He assured the board the idea is not to just come up with a report but to actually implement a plan to create jobs that will support families, bring retail back to the downtown and return good housing stock to the downtown.

“I think we’ll succeed or fail together. We need a school district that’s special,” Godfrey said, adding he has seen “tremendous pride in the community,” and saying he is “amazed at the passion” that he doesn’t see in many places.

Specifically, Godfrey said, he wants to build upon an education “cluster” that already exists in the city, with Kent State University, the active high school alumni association, the online school and another post-secondary school looking at locating downtown.

He praised the school board for having made innovative moves in education, including a preliminary plan for a charter school within the district that was put into place several years ago but not yet implemented.

The CEO of a company that specializes in charter school formation and management was expected to attend Monday night’s meeting, but he was unable to attend due to an airline issue.

Board member Richard Wolf questioned whether he is associated with an agency he said “want(s) to take over education as a for-profit entity,” saying, “I want no part of it.”

Godfrey denied any affiliation and said his assumption is the board wants to “be part of a charter school and not a victim of it.”

Saying the city has seen “two of these pie-in-the-sky proposals in recent years,” Wolf asked what Better City offers to change the fact that, for some downtown business owners, their aging buildings have become a burden.

Godfrey said the company watches trends closely and said, “Today, job creation is poised to happen all around East Liverpool, but there is nothing set up to bring them into (the city). I think we can change that.”

He said it is believed that, with investment in structures, the city can be transformed into an entertainment center with movie theaters, restaurants and urban housing.

Asked the source of funding for these plans, Godfrey said tax credits tied to historic buildings will help as will implementing a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) program.

With a TIF program in place, new taxes generated are used for infrastructure, although the school district would have to waive its share of the taxes.

The TIF and the district’s willingness to waive taxes will be “critical” in bringing new jobs to the city.

A couple other “small pockets” of financing will also be used, he said.

Asked by Wolf how many such projects had he “ram-rodded through,” Godfrey related that, over a period of years in Ogden, Utah, more than 150 acres of downtown property had been re-developed, bringing $1.3 billion in investments and creating 8,000 jobs.

In another town with a population of just 2,500, officials had tried to attract a hotel for 15 years. Within a few months, Better City had managed to establish a hotel there, the only one in the entire county.

“We have multiple other places like that,” he advised.

Godfrey said the company has a proven track record, a good relationship with banking companies and credibility.

“We’ve been through it and know what works, and we’ve stubbed our toes and know the things that didn’t work. We’ve done our due diligence. Everyone is going to have to make sacrifices. So far, we’ve seen a community willing to make those sacrifices,” he told the board.

Although Superintendent James Herring had a resolution prepared regarding the district waiving its right to tax revenue in light of the TIF, the board decided not to take action until members can gather more specific information.

“It’s a big decision, but it’s a big opportunity,” board member Bob Estell said.