EAST LIVERPOOL - The finance committee of the city's Community Improvement Corp. voted Thursday to donate $60,000 to the Vision 20/20 project to revitalize the city.
The recommendation will be taken up by the entire CIC board when it meets sometime next week.
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 Todd Alexander, president of the Chamber of Commerce, who have helped head up the project.
Estell admitted 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.
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 to get there.
Estell and Alexander said they hope to attract those people into the downtown with a multi-screen theater complex. Alexander noted the prospect had moved beyond the "investigation phase" to having "interested parties" serious about coming to the city.
Alexander also spoke of bringing a "larger scale hotel entity" to the downtown. Alexander called that a "first phase project" necessary to kick start the local economy.
Lastly, Alexander and Estell spoke of establishing a charter school, one that would be part of the city school district and geared toward bringing new students and their families to the area. They compared their strategy for the charter school to that of the performing arts charter school in Midland, Pa.
"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 also spoke of building a fieldhouse, 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.
Estell and Alexander ended their presentation by telling the CIC they needed further funding to continue the effort and to show other potential donors the project is serious about its mission.
"We'll have between $60,000 and $50,000 in pledges if we can find matching funds for those pledges," Estell said, "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, saying the city is in bad shape and drastic measures need to be taken to revive it. "We have to do something drastic," were CIC president Sam Scafide's words.
CIC member Fred Kane disagreed, 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 balance. The other members disagreed, voting 7-1 to approve the $60,000 donation.
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.