Levey & Co. wasted no time.
The Akron developer started construction of a retail development at the Shenango Valley Freeway and South Hermitage Road as soon as the state approved a contingent-heavy guarantee on bonds that will be issued under a tax incremental financing plan, about two weeks ago.
City and county commissioners and Hermitage School Board have approved diverting for 20 years 69 percent of new real estate taxes to pay off bonds issued by Mercer County Industrial Development Authority to finance a portion of the project.
Levey started construction before city commissioners and MCIDA completed procedural steps necessary before the TIF bonds can be issued.
“That was a risk they were willing to take,” said Sarah Davis Buss, a lawyer consulting with MCIDA on the TIF process.
Maybe not much of a risk considering city commissioners and MCIDA previously approved the plan.
Even so, city Commissioner Rita L. Ferringer said she was surprised with the speed with which contractors began cutting down trees, removing contaminated soil and grading the land.
Jeffrey A. Mills, a lawyer guiding Levey through the TIF process, said Levey is on a tight timeline to have work done so the anchor tenant, Kohl’s, can open in April.
“I see it as a sign of good faith,” Commissioner Duane J. Piccirilli said of the work.
“I’m happy to see all that,” Ferringer said. “I’m just hoping they can do that.”
Commissioners held a public hearing Thursday on the TIF district, the physical boundaries of the property. Under the TIF law, commissioners have to wait at least three weeks before adopting a resolution creating the district. Commissioners agreed to vote on the first eligible day, at 8:30 a.m. Aug. 13.
At about the same time, MCIDA will authorize issuing the bonds and accepting the state guarantee, Buss said
“The funding could be in hand by the end of August,” she said.
The public hearing suffered from a lack of public input. Only two people offered comments, and one of them is a city adviser who has championed the project at every opportunity.
“It’s a sad day in Hermitage when you hold a public hearing and nobody shows up,” said resident Frank Little, the lone member of the public. He has written letters to the editor denouncing the TIF plan and continued Thursday.
He called it “absurd” that city officials are designating the TIF district property as blighted - a term used in the TIF law - when it is a “prime piece of real estate” bounded by two highways.
He pooh-poohed Levey’s purported need for cash when it can afford to hire Mills, who is with ReedSmith, which Little called one of the biggest, most expensive law firms in the world.
“It’s corporate welfare when a lot of other people are out of work,” he said.
Angela Palumbo, administrator for Pennsylvania CareerLink and a member of the Hermitage Community and Economic Development Commission, said the project will create jobs. Although some people have criticized salaries and benefits associated with retail employment, she said, “It’s very, very important to create jobs. There is no insignificant job.”
Palumbo said she took a call from a woman earlier in the day who had not been able to find work.
“All I could think was, ‘Oh, I wish this was up because she would be a perfect fit,’ ” Palumbo said.
Little said the money that will go to pay of the bonds - an estimated $5.9 million - would be better spent hiring people for day jobs around the city.
Government guarantee lets work begin
Levey & Co. wasted no time.
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