Penn National Gaming's plan to sell Beulah Park in Grove City to Continental Real Estate collapsed last week after Continental pulled out of the deal.
Jonathan Kass, president of development for Continental, said Monday, Aug. 25, the company chose not to begin making monthly, nonrefundable deposits with Penn National.
"Our contract expired according to its terms," Kass said.
Continental Chairman Frank Kass said earlier this month that his company was set to begin making payments to Penn Gaming as it moved through the development process, but with a majority of council showing more interest in another plan, Continental sent Penn a registered letter asking that the contract be revised.
Frank Kass also said his company might end the arrangement after reading that Grove City Council President Ted Berry, Councilwoman Maria Klemack-McGraw and Councilman Steve Bennett favored a plan from developer Joe Ciminello that includes a connector road to link Beulah Park with downtown.
Frank Kass called the connector "superfluous."
Ciminello hosted a meeting Aug. 20 with three of Grove City Council's five members and officials from Penn National -- an action that a constitutional law expert says violated the Ohio Sunshine Law.
Frank Kass previously declined to describe what his proposal for Beulah Park would have been, saying it's not a matter of "public record."
Talks of a connector between Beulah Park and downtown Grove City have been a source of conflict for the past few months. Previous connector proposals called for extending Columbus Street straight across Broadway and bending it into Mill Street.
That plan would have affected the configuration of the new Grove City Library, which is slated to be built at the intersection of Broadway and Grant Street.
The city also paid $30,000 for a recently completed study that did not recommend extending Columbus Street.
However, on Aug. 12, City Administrator Chuck Boso and Mike Keller of the engineering firm EMH&T presented a new plan to the Southwest Public Libraries board of trustees that would shift a portion of Columbus Street north to align it with Mill Street, reducing its impact on the library site.
Grove City Council voted 4-1 in favor of a resolution endorsing the realignment on Aug. 18.
The meetings involving Ciminello, city council members and Penn National officials on Aug. 20 were held at Ciminello's Pinnacle Golf Course in Grove City; each council member met individually with the Penn National officials.
A 1996 Ohio Supreme Court ruling says the Sunshine Law -- which requires that records and meetings be open to the public -- cannot be circumvented by having back-to-back, individual meetings involving a majority of a public body.
Ciminello, who wants to develop Beulah Park, declined to say whether Penn National agreed to sell to him.
"I thought it was a good meeting," he said.
Penn National spokesman Bob Tenenbaum said the company does not comment on real-estate transactions.
Berry described the get-together as a casual "meet-and-greet" and "a chance to say hello," but not a meeting.
He said he knew Klemack-McGraw would be there but not Bennett. All three showed up at different times, Berry said.
According to Berry, Penn National officials said very little and sat mostly "stone-faced" while he described how he wants to see Beulah developed.
"I just reiterated to them what I've said publicly: I'm not in favor of warehouses, and it has to have connectivity to downtown," Berry said.
He said he is aware that a majority of council members cannot discuss public business in a closed session. No public business or pending legislation was discussed during his 15-minute visit, he said.
Bennett said he told the Penn National officials that the company had left "a vacuum" at
Beulah after closing the track in May and moving its racing license to the Youngstown area. It has a responsibility, he said, to deal with a developer who would make Beulah "neighborhood-friendly."
He and Berry said they did not discuss the meet-and-greet with each other or Klemack-McGraw afterward.
Attorney David Marburger, who argued the 1996 open-meetings case before the Ohio Supreme Court for the winning plaintiff Cincinnati Post, said subsequent appeals court rulings -- "wrongly decided, in my view" -- to exempt public bodies if the purpose is not to discuss public business, but simply to listen to information.
However, saying how they want Beulah Park to be developed is discussing public business because the council members have a say on zoning and development issues, Marburger said, and discussing that at a closed event is a violation, he said.
"In this case, they aren't just passive recipients of information," he said.
Council's next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 2, but at this time, there's nothing pertaining to Beulah on the agenda, Berry said Tuesday, Aug. 26.
"There's nothing before council," he said. "I don't see anything coming before council."
Berry also said council can't take action or weigh in on any proposal until a development plan is presented, which so far hasn't happened.
"Until you see a development plan, everything else is rumor and speculation," he said.
ThisWeek reporter Mark Dubovec contributed to this story.