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Divine Intervention is Needed to Make ‘City of God’ a Reality - Vindicator

Twenty-nine years have passed since Mount Calvary Pentecostal Church on Youngstown’s South Side bought the Idora Park property and proclaimed plans to create a spiritual community called the “City of God.” It has been said that God works in mysterious ways, but after almost three decades it’s time to ask: Should the church concede defeat and let some other entity attempt to redevelop the land?

It’s clear that the lack of funding is at the root of Mount Calvary’s inability to build the “city,” which is supposed to include a nursing home, counseling center, gymnasium and worship facility.

The late Bishop Norman Wagner, who had the vision for the 26-acre site of the once very popular amusement park, was not able to secure the financing needed to make his dream a reality.

Wagner died in 2010, and his successor, Bishop C. Shawn Tyson, is facing the same challenges.

Divine intervention may be the last hope — seeing as how the church on Oak Hill Avenue was heavily damaged last December by fire. Tyson and his congregation have committed all available money to the restoration and renovation of the church. The “City of God” project has been put on hold.

Yet, the bishop isn’t giving up. He has talked about the first phase being a 75,000-square-foot “Dream Center,” and is considering a communitywide fundraising drive.

“What we have not done, which is perhaps something we need to do a better job of, is requesting donations or contributions from people in the community and community entities,” he said. “That is something we have not done, but that’s something that I’m definitely open to because this project is going to benefit everyone.”

There’s no reason to doubt Tyson’s sincerity and commitment, but there is a reality overshadowing the project that cannot be summarily dismissed.

Ian Beniston, deputy director of the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp. who has led the effort to stabilize the Idora Park neighborhood, is skeptical that Mount Calvary Church has the financial wherewithal to proceed with the “City of God” project. Beniston has good reason to be skeptical.

There are liens totaling $532,455 against the church and $680,000 owed from Mount Calvary’s original mortgage. Three years ago, the city of Youngstown wanted to place the property in land-bank foreclosure, but the church paid off the property taxes that were owed and retained ownership.

But the absence of any significant progress in making the project a reality simply feeds the perception that the proponents are waiting for a miracle.

Beniston is right in saying that the church must prove to the community that it has solid plans for the property and the financial means to carry them out.


There are questions that should be answered by the bishop, Beniston said, foremost of which is this: “How are you going to get rid of the million dollars in liens?”

For the answer to be credible, the church needs to be willing to make public its financial statements so people can judge for themselves if the “City of God’’ is real or simply a dream — that may never come true.

It’s a truism that the best-laid plans of mice and men often go astray. That’s what seems to be happening with the “City of God.”

There is no shame in admitting defeat.

Bishop Tyson must know that the community’s patience is wearing thin. There are individuals and groups willing to take on the challenge of redeveloping the property, but they won’t get involved so long as the church owns it.

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