CANTON – Two Stark County commissioners said they were "put on the spot" after Canton City Council last week approved a $5 million loan for infrastructure improvements at the Hall of Fame Village under the condition that the county also approve a $5 million loan.
"I don't appreciate the city dictating what we do," Commissioner Janet Weir Creighton said during Monday's work session. "We are our own entity. We are the protector of the taxpayers' dollars. And I don't appreciate being put on Front Street by another jurisdiction when we've not even had the opportunity to discuss this."
The commissioners heard from Stark Economic Development Board President Ray Hexamer about a proposal for the Stark County Port Authority to create a revolving loan fund that could be used by Stark businesses. If the fund is created, Hall of Fame Resort & Entertainment Co., which is developing the Hall of Fame Village, would be able to apply for a loan.
Hexamer said the board can utilize state incentives to obtain grants for business development. In recent years, the agency has been able to increase the amount it receives in grant funding, he said, and has been seeing record numbers. SEDB received $135,000 in grants in 2017. Over the last three years, it has received an average of $6.9 million per year.
"Most of those are tied to manufacturing businesses. So the gap exists for us at SEDB for those companies in our communities that may need equipment, real estate or infrastructure improvements that do not fit that criteria," he said.
Mike Naso, SEDB economic development services coordinator, said the revolving loan fund would likely focus on small businesses. He said many of the grants through JobsOhio are centered around larger projects.
The revolving loan fund is not a grant, but Stark businesses — including the Hall of Fame Village — would be able to apply for a loan of a minimum of $25,000 with a fixed interest rate no lower than 4% or 75% of the prime rate.
Businesses could not use the funds on working capital. These loans would not be forgivable or renewable.
The fund would be managed by the Stark County Port Authority. If approved, the port authority's board would be asked to commit $500,000 of its reserve funds to the revolving loan. Hexamer said it has about $1.3 million in reserves.
Other counties such as Summit, Wayne, Ashtabula and Delaware have revolving loan funds, Hexamer said.
Hexamer said SEDB originally intended to request $7 million for the fund, but changed that amount to $5 million because it learned that there may be matching dollars available through other programs.
Hall of Fame Village expected to apply for loan if fund is created
SEDB anticipates the Hall of Fame Village will apply for a loan if the revolving loan fund is established.
Hexamer said the Village's loan payments would help SEDB build its revolving loan fund. Additionally, he said that Stark County has seen an increase in bed tax collections this year and that Visit Canton largely attributes this to the youth fields at the Hall of Fame Village.
"If we add a 100,000-square-foot indoor facility, retail, another hotel and waterpark, this would continue to grow," Hexamer said.
The Hall of Fame Village has already gotten a $5 million loan from the Stark County Community Redevelopment Fund, which was established by the George H. Deuble Foundation, Hoover Foundation, Stark Community Foundation and Timken Foundation in 2019. It is overseen by the Stark Community Foundation.
Creighton said the commissioners have received phone calls from citizens with questions about the loan to Hall of Fame Village. She said she is uncertain whether she will be ready to vote on the loan during the commissioners' meeting Wednesday.
"I believe in the revolving loan fund. I believe in loaning money to entities that move this county ahead in economic development, but my job as a county commissioner is to protect the taxpayers' dollars of this county," Creighton said.
Adding to Creighton's comments, Commissioner Bill Smith said he didn't appreciate the city of Canton's contingency, but that he wouldn't allow it to get in the way of his decision in regard to the revolving loan fund.
"I don't appreciate someone else saying it's dependent on someone else," he said.
Reach Paige at 330-580-8577 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @paigembenn.
This article originally appeared on The Repository: Stark County commissioners hear pitch about revolving loan fund