Talk of the Downtown: How Fast Momentum Is Building
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The downtown business community is excited about the latest good news about developments in in the central business district including plans for converting the Stambaugh Building into a hotel and the entry of a local hospitality operator into the market (READ STORY). In fact, redevelopment is occuring must faster than many say they dared to dream.
Dominic L. Gatta III, owner of the Gatta Co., Niles, was among the first in a wave of entrepreneurs who sought to capitalize on the emerging downtown market. His family purchased the Federal Building at auction in October 2009. Today a restaurant, the busy V2 Wine Bar and Trattoria, occupies the ground floor and fully leased apartments comprise the upper levels of the renovated building.
“It’s great,” Gatta remarked during an interview at V2 as waiters there attended to the lunch crowd. Business people coming downtown appear to have the same goals as Gatta did a few years ago, he reflected. “We wanted to put something nice downtown, have a successful businesses down here -- really do the right thing with these businesses.”
Gatta is encouraged by plans disclosed by Dominic Marchionda to develop the Stambaugh Building as a hotel, first reported Wednesday by The Business Journal. “That can’t happen soon enough,” Gatta said. “We all know there’s a need for a hotel down here and it was only a matter of time before somebody did it. I think he’ll do a really good job and he has good people behind him.”
And Gatta is encouraged by Marchionda and hospitality operator Michael Naffah’s purchase Tuesday of the North Phelps Street building occupied by Pig Iron Press. Naffah’s entry into the downtown market is “a huge move” because “everything he touches does pretty well,” Gatta remarked.
Naffah sees “the same thing” as other entrepreneurs who have undertaken ventures downtown, Gatta continues. "There’s a lot of potential” and as a group “we could all do some really great things.”
Gatta said he plans to soon detail his plans for his next downtown venture, the redevelopment of the Gallagher Building, which his company acquired last year. Those plans call for a wine/coffee bar and burger restaurant on the first floor, a total of 10 apartments on the third and fourth floors, and potentially a business on the second floor. “We’re finalizing the design phase. We’re looking to probably start construction within the next couple weeks,” he said.
Meantime, there is a waiting list for apartment space at Gatta's Federa Building, which was developed with the expectation of leasing it to students rather than the young professionals who have leased space there. “It showed there’s a need for that,” he said.
Gatta doesn’t rule out doing more projects downtown -- in fact, he was one of the bidders on the Pig Iron building at Tuesday’s auction of the property, losing out to Marchionda and Naffah -- but said he prefers to work on one project at a time.
Like Gatta, Phil Kidd sees a pronounced market for a downtown hotel. Kidd, who owns the Youngstown Nation store on North Phelps Street and DefendYoungstown.com, posted last week on his Facebook page about an encounter with an individual who had been in town for business and inquired about downtown hotel accommodations. “It was kind of an embarrassing moment,” Kidd said, but not the first time he has had such a conversation.
“It’s a landmark project for downtown,” Kidd said of Marchionda's plans for a hotel. “Beyond filling an important need for downtown, it also sends a strong message that demand is here for a multitude of things. I think that’s only going to help with other people coming to the table to invest with other properties.”
Kidd sees “an exponential factor” that could attract amenities such as a grocery store, drugstore or gas station. “The conversation has shifted,” he observed. “In many ways I think we’re just getting started in downtown Youngstown.”
Keynote Media Group, a business that previously operated in Boardman and Austintown, relocated its offices downtown seven years ago. The move fulfilled a promise its president, Richard Hahn, made to a young mayoral candidate, Jay Williams, whose campaign Keynote handled. “Son of a gun, he won, so here we are,” Hahn said.
The relocation, first to the city-owned 20 Federal Place and two years ago to Ohio One Corp.’s Commerce Building, was “the best move we ever made, no question about it,” Hahn reflected.
“Downtown has rejuvenated our business,” he said. “The vitality and the robustness of downtown have made a big difference in our attitude, made a big difference in the kind of business we do.” Keynote recently renegotiated its lease to stay at Commerce, Hahn noted.
As one of the founding members of the new Downtown Business Alliance of Youngstown -- known as DBAY -- Hahn said he is encouraged by news of the new project, Gatta’s “rejuvenation” of the Gallagher Building and other recent developments.
“It seems every time you open The Business Journal, every time you watch a TV report, something new is happening down here. It’s almost hard to keep track of the new businesses that are coming down,” he commented.
Such developments provide DBAY with the opportunity to further its mission of developing downtown by attracting new businesses and encouraging existing ones to remain and expand.
“A lot of our clients that come down here now haven’t been here for 25 or 30 years. They’ve been out in the suburbs and they can’t believe the changes taking place," Hahn said.
He, too, is also encouraged by “the quality of the individuals who are making investments downtown,” such as Gatta, Marchionda and Naffah, as well as Iron and String Life Enhancement Inc.’s Jimmy Sutman, who has a couple of projects under way, and Ohio One’s Richard Mills.
“You know that when they say they’re going to do something it gets done. The history of Youngstown hasn’t always been that way,” Hahn remarked.
Jerry Schonhut, general manager of O’Donold’s Irish Pub & Grille, affirms the attraction of the downtown market. “Downtown Youngstown is the place to go today. We feel there is a lot of potential here,” he said.
O’Donold’s, which also operates in Austintown, opened last September in the space vacated by the Lemon Grove when it moved into the former Rosetta Stone building. The downtown market “has exceeded our expectations,” Schonhut said. Both the lunch and dinner market have picked up, weekends draw the college crowd and plans are already under way for an expansion, he reported.
Those plans call for a rooftop bar -- Schonhut had hoped for the space to be ready for St. Patrick’s Day but now is targeting summer -- and banquet space on the second level. “When it’s not being used for banquets, we’ll have dueling pianos going on there so people can come in and have something a little bit different in Youngstown,” he said.
The upcoming St. Patrick’s Day Dash will take participants to a variety of downtown establishments, said Lyndsey Hughes, director of marketing and events and projects for downtown, who sees the event as “a small open house for downtown.”
People who might normally frequent a particular establishment are introduced to others they never visited. “It’s really a neat way to get people down here and push them out of their comfort zone a little bit,” Hughes said. The event has expanded from nine participating venues five years ago, when she launched the event, to 15 this year, and she expects upward of 2,000 participants.
“It’s exciting,” she remarked.
The expansion of downtown entertainment options, development of Erie Terminal Place, bringing Youngstown State University and downtown closer, the new National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute and even the Oh Wow!Children’s Center fare bringing “this huge influx of people who have never been down here before,” she said. “It’s amazing to see how quickly an area can start to turn around.”
Copyright 2013 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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