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After reservations aired, Akron Council OKs wireless venture

7/3/2008 - West Side Leader
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By Stephanie Kist

Members question OneCommunity contract, InfoCision deal

DOWNTOWN AKRON — At its June 30 meeting, Akron City Council authorized a contract to provide wireless Internet service to a portion of the city, but the fact that contract has yet to be drawn up brought out concerns.

Mayor Don Plusquellic has signed a memorandum of understanding with OneCommunity and asked Council to approve a five-year commitment of about $800,000 toward the design, deployment and operation of a network covering about 11 square miles of the central city, reaching as far west as Highland Square. The city’s commitment includes $395,000 toward capital costs and $80,000 a year for the network’s operational and maintenance expenses.

The project is funded by a first-year, $4.5 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to OneCommunity. The foundation has pledged up to $25 million over the next five years to accelerate digital access projects in the 26 U.S. communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers.

Council unanimously and without comment voted its approval at the regular Council meeting, but at the Economic Development and Job Creation Committee meeting earlier in the day, Councilman John Conti (D-at large) debated various points of the legislation, most especially the authorization of a contract that doesn’t yet exist.

“Would you go and blindly sign a contract that you haven’t read?” Conti, who is not a committee member, posed in the direction of the committee.

“Mr. Conti, we get criticized when we bring you a fully developed agreement because you weren’t involved in the beginning. All of this has been done in public light; nothing’s being done here behind closed doors. There’s no secrets here of any type,” responded Deputy Mayor Dave Lieberth. “It’s important to keep our eye on the donut here, not the hole,” he continued. “We understand there’s a hole here, but the donut is that this is a major project that we’ve been able to bring to Akron, and if we are going to be able to proceed, they are waiting for this approval from City Council.”

Conti, along with committee member Tina Merlitti (D-Ward 7), also questioned which entity would actually own the program.

“There’s nothing in that saying who owns what or who’s responsible for any of it,” Merlitti said.

“The ownership issue has not been resolved,” responded Lieberth. He promised, “on behalf of the mayor,” to keep Council abreast of the process of drawing up the final contract. He added any further expenditures would need to come before Council for its authorization.

During the same committee meeting, Council members and city administration also debated a pending contract for redevelopment between the Bath-Akron-Fairlawn Joint Economic Development District (JEDD) and InfoCision Management Corp.

Per the contract, InfoCision would invest $10.5 million in construction of a new building and $2 million to rehabilitate four existing buildings on its campus, which is located on Springside Drive in the JEDD. The city would purchase and sell to InfoCision 7 acres of land for $6.725 million, which would be financed through the city for 10 years. The city is expected to break even on the deal in 23 years.

InfoCision plans to retain its 600 full-time employees and use its best efforts to add more than 375 more full-time equivalent employees during the next 10 years. The company also plans to increase its $24 million payroll by 3 percent per year.

Councilman Jim Shealey (D-at large) brought up a question concerning Fairlawn’s involvement in the deal and the tax revenue the city of Fairlawn would receive.

“We were splitting this with Fairlawn, and Fairlawn’s not putting anything in as far as incentives?” Shealey said. “I don’t understand this.”

Committee Chairwoman Terry Albanese (D-Ward 6) responded, “Fairlawn has consistently not offered any economic development incentives to anyone within Fairlawn, so, no, they are not contributing anything to this. This is an agreement between InfoCision Management and the city of Akron.”

Shealey asked, then, if there are options regarding the split of revenue with Fairlawn. “Fifty-fifty and they invest nothing?” he asked.

The 50-50 split is predetermined in the existing JEDD agreement, said Economic Development Department officials who were at the meeting.

Reached by phone July 1, Fairlawn Mayor William Roth didn’t want to comment on what was said at the meeting, because he wasn’t there, but confirmed, “Fairlawn’s policy overall is that we do not provide economic incentives to businesses. We just don’t do that.”

He added the city’s policy actually benefits Akron because Fairlawn isn’t, as a result, taking businesses out of Akron.

At the committee meeting, Conti also had questions about what Bath receives as part of the deal, and also why the JEDD doesn’t finance the improvements instead of the city of Akron alone.

He also asked what, if anything, keeps InfoCision at its present location after 10 years.

Warren Woolford, director of the city Department of Planning and Urban Development, said he would have answers to Council members’ questions at a future meeting. Council requested time on the legislation.

Also at the meeting, Council honored with a proclamation and healthy applause Economic Development Manager David Lietz, who is retiring.

“I’ve so enjoyed my career; it’s gone so fast,” he said, adding his appreciation to Council and the city administration. “I know that everybody around here really cares about their city.”

The next Akron City Council meeting is scheduled to take place July 7 at 7 p.m. in City Council Chambers on the third floor of the Akron Municipal Building, 166 S. High St., in Downtown Akron. Committee meetings are scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. that afternoon, also in Council Chambers.

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