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Middletown Council on Hollywoodland: 'We'll just punt it.'

3 of 5 members unwilling to vote
Renders of Proposed Middletown 'Hollywoodland' project
Posted at 9:40 AM, Oct 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-23 19:21:57-04

MIDDLETOWN, Ohio — Middletown City Council took no action Thursday night on a development contract for Hollywoodland, after three of its five members said they would abstain from voting despite pleas from the audience to “vote it down.”

Vice Mayor Joe Mulligan said he plans to recuse himself from all votes on the project because his family owns property near the planned development. Council members Monica Nenni and Ami Vitori said they are awaiting guidance from the Ohio Ethics Commission on whether their ownership of downtown businesses creates a conflict of interest.

“Very frustrating,” said Mayor Nicole Condrey, who opposes the project and wanted council to vote. “Our citizens are frustrated. I’m sure council members are frustrated too. So, with that, I guess we’ll just punt it.”

Council’s next scheduled meeting is November 2. But Condrey said a special meeting could be called earlier if Nenni or Vitori receive ethics opinions that allow them to vote.

Hollywoodland developer Main Street Community Capital LLC asked the city to delay a vote until December 7 so it could arrange a series of town hall meetings to further explain its project. But Condrey doesn’t like that option because it forces city staff to devote more time to the project.

“I don’t feel like giving this topic additional time will surface sufficient additional answers to our questions on our citizens' minds and it will inappropriately move this large vote even closer to the end of election term before a new council takes over,” Condrey said. “It will also make a petition even more difficult for our citizens to pass in the month of December.”

The controversial $1.3 billion project aims to transform Middletown’s riverfront into a themed entertainment attraction built around the movie industry, with three hotels, a convention center and concert venue to attract 3.5 million visitors annually.

Middletown residents have raised questions about the project since its public debut October 5. Those questions continued last night.

“How long before we have to pass another road levy to add lanes and an overpass to get us to Hollywoodland?” said Middletown resident Joseph Cox. “If all these billion-dollar pension funds want to invest in Hollywoodland, why do they need $7.5 million from us?”

That's a reference to a Hollywoodland contract clause requiring the city to give federal stimulus funds to the developer to cover pre-construction expenses.

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Mayor Condrey raised questions of her own in a 15-minute presentation that outlined her reason for opposing the project. Condrey said developers have yet to deliver to the city a “fully vetted and written plan” that would include “sufficient data, design and feasibility studies and financial pro formas to allow the city of Middletown to responsibly decide a ‘go/no-go’ decision on” where to sign a development contract.

Condrey said the written plan was due in August, but developers have yet to share it.

“Without the deliverables of a $250,000 contract, I don’t know why I would trust a new entity under a new name with 30 times the funds,” Condrey said. “Citizens have asked remarkably intelligent questions, many of which do not have answers yet.”

Main Street Community Capital asked the city to delay a vote until December 7 so it could arrange a series of town hall meetings to further explain its project. But Condrey doesn’t like that option because it would force city staff to devote more time to a project with too many issues to resolve.

“I don’t feel like giving this topic additional time will surface sufficient additional answers to our questions on our citizens' minds and it will inappropriately move this large vote even closer to the end of election term before a new council takes over,” Condrey said. “It will also make a petition even more difficult for our citizens to pass in the month of December.”