Speaking from Egypt Cambria Regional summit keynote speaker Thaddeus Pawiowski gives reasons “Why towns like Johnstown are the future “, at the Pasquerilla Conference Center, Thursday, November 10, 2022.

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – The arrangement for Top Dog Productions to operate as the interim manager of the Frank J. Pasquerilla Conference Center has been extended.

Johnstown City Council voted on Wednesday to have the company run the city-owned facility through Feb. 28, 2024. The previous agreement, which council approved in August, was set to expire on Feb. 1.

Mayor Frank Janakovic, Ricky Britt, Marie Mock, Laura Huchel and Charles Arnone voted in favor of the deal.

Deputy Mayor Michael Capriotti and the Rev. Sylvia King were opposed.

The parties involved, including Flair of Country Catering and Event Planning, which makes food for events at the center, hope the extension will provide certainty for booking into the future. Prior to Top Dog and Flair of Country taking over, the center had been mostly unused after Pasquerilla Enterprises L.P. stopped managing the site through its subsidiary Crown Conventions Center Co., effective Feb. 28.

“There wasn’t much security in the fact that people could book events here,” said Dustin Greene, who co-owns Top Dog with Dustin Coval. “Most of the emails start out with, ‘Is the conference center still going to be open?’ That’s frustrating to me. … I think we both feel that the conference center is going to be open for a very, very long time, and it’s a great building. It has a lot of potential. We’re ready to drive it and keep it open.”

Corey Crocco, who co-owns Flair of Country with his wife, Mindi, looked to the future, saying, “Between the two of us and the city, I think we’re working together to have some good plans to make this thing happen and be at the center of Johnstown for a long time.”

City Manager Ethan Imhoff discussed the contract details during an interview.

“The terms are it’s break-even for both parties,” Imhoff said. “We’re not paying Top Dog anything, so they certainly have incentive to book events there. Now, if we get to the point where we have a significant increase in events, we can negotiate financial terms with Top Dog to recapture some of that income, but right now it’s a rebuilding phase.”

Imhoff estimated that it costs $100,000 annually for the city to run utilities at the convention center.

Johnstown plans to use state grant and American Rescue Plan funding to install new carpeting and upgrade the HVAC system next year.

Council approves budget

City Council also gave unanimous final approval for a $15.1 million 2023 general fund budget that does not include any tax increases.

Johnstown is scheduled to leave Pennsylvania’s Act 47 program for financially distressed municipalities next year. Participating in Act 47 enables the city to levy a local services tax at three times the rate of other municipalities in the commonwealth. Losing that extra funding will create approximately $900,000 holes in future budgets that will need to be addressed.

“We have a solid budget,” Imhoff said. “Certainly we have some challenges. The city’s financial health is going to need continued to be monitored very closely, but it’s a budget that will definitely get us through 2023.”

Fund distribution questioned

For the third straight council meeting, Bishop Joseph McGauley questioned why Jefferson Memorial Church did not receive any American Rescue Plan funding that was awarded by the city. His church requested three separate $250,000 grants, totaling $750,000, along with another application for $25,000.

Supporters of McGauley, including approximately 30 children who participate in the church’s Destiny’s Outreach after-school program, attended the meeting.

“All I’m asking is just please try to consider us for your budget,” McGauley said.

City officials used a scoring system to determine what nonprofits would get money.

State Rep. Frank Burns, D-East Taylor Township, filed a Right-to-Know request to get information about how the scoring was handled.

“Only when that process is fully revealed can people decide for themselves whether it was done fairly and objectively,” Burns said in a statement he released earlier this week. “That information needs to be put on the table for all to see.” 

Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 814-532-5056. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Sutor.

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