UPDATE: News coverage permitted, no cameras at Southern Park Mall event
The company seeking tax incentives to redevelop the Southern Park Mall had a change of heart on Friday and permitted members of the news media to cover what has been billed as “Coffee with the Community."
The change came after wfmj.com reported that Washington Prime Group was prohibiting reporters from covering the event, which the company said is designed to let community members ask questions about the mall redevelopment project and a proposed incentives package.
After exchanging several emails with Kimberly Green, Vice President, Investor Relations & Corporate Communications for Washington Prime Group, 21 News spoke with her by phone as the 11:30 event was beginning and learned that reporters would now be allowed into the event to take notes, but no cameras would be permitted.
"We want this to be an authentic opportunity to ask questions, and it's not always the most authentic when you have a camera in your face," Green said.
Washington Prime Group is hosting the event at the Mall's Hub area near the former Sears entrance property. The meeting began at 11:30 am Friday and is scheduled to wrap-up at 12:30 pm.
Boardman Local School officials were expected to attend the event.
21 News reporter Michelle Nicks is covering the event at the mall.
An email sent from Washington Prime Group to 21 News earlier Friday morning announced that mall representatives would not participate in media interviews on Friday, and all media would be asked to leave the property during the community event.
Washington Prime is asking Mahoning County, the Western Reserve Port Authority, Mahoning County Commissioners, and Boardman Local Schools to approve incentives to help the mall carry out a $30 million redevelopment plan.
Mall operators describe the incentives as commonly-used economic development tools to offset $6 million in costs.
Washington Prime would fund 100% of its project costs upfront and be reimbursed a portion of its costs over time through a series of programs. The maximum time would be 15 years we're told.
The mall owners would work with the Western Reserve Port Authority to save on sales tax paid on construction materials.
Washington Prime is asking Mahoning County Commissioners, Boardman Township, and Boardman Local Schools to establish a program allowing the company to keep a portion of new real estate taxes generated from the newly created property value.
Owners also want a share of property taxes on mall property for a limited time. The news release does not specify how long that time period would be.
Mall owners say no local governmental agency, including Boardman Local Schools, is being asked to forego any budgeted revenue through the proposed incentives package.
Only new taxes generated from new development would be impacted, and only for a limited period of time, according to Washington Prime.
Also, the company says residents of Boardman or Mahoning County will not be asked to pay any new property tax as a result of the proposed incentives package.
Washington Prime says the incentives would offset costs associated with things like site costs relating to cleanup of the former Sears site, preparation of land for the new DeBartolo Commons green space, sports fields, and construction of new stormwater facilities that will alleviate potential flooding.
Boardman Schools would be given priority when it comes to using the DeBartolo Commons green space and sports fields, according to Washington Prime.
A proposed walking and bike path would connect DeBartolo Commons, Southern Park Mall, to Boardman Park as part of Township's Active Transportation Plan under the proposal.
Boardman Local Schools and Mahoning County officials have separately agreed to vote soon on separate incentives, according to Washington Prime.
Washington Prime Group says it is using local unionized labor to perform the renovation work.