Turnpike Service Plazas Reopen with Panera Cafes
NEW SPRINGFIELD, Ohio -- After leaving the Ohio Turnpike’s Mahoning Valley Service Plaza, Joseph Balog, vice chairman of the Ohio Turnpike commission, said the next stop for him and his colleagues was the Brady’s Leap plaza to the west. There he would take down the sign that advised it was the last service plaza on the toll road heading east.
On Wednesday, officials with the Ohio Turnpike Commission joined with Covelli Enterprises owner/operator Sam Covelli, local officials, news media and other invited guests to celebrate the reopening of the Mahoning Valley and Glacier Hills service plazas near the 237 mile market of the 241-mile toll road.
“I’m proud to say that the eastern gateway to Ohio is back in business,” remarked Rick Hodges, the commission’s executive director. “The vital commerce corridor from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean runs right through here and this is either the first impression of Ohio or the last memory,’ he added.
The project to replace the service plazas, which began in January 2011, was expected to be completed a year ago but ran into delays from the start due to heavier soil contamination than anticipated and 2011’s unusually wet weather, said Doug Hedrick, chief engineer with the turnpike commission. “That set the tone for the project,” he said. Then there were issues with the ability of the Pennsylvania contractor initially engaged to do the project to complete it, which led to the commission deciding in February 2012 to terminate that contract and the bonding company coming in to complete the project.
The project also faced issues over manpower shortages, in part because of the number of skilled tradesmen employed at V&M Star’s expansion project, he added.
“I kind of equate this to receiving this great Christmas present Christmas morning and then not being able to open it until next year. It’s been very frustrating for us,” Hedrick said.
The reopening of the Mahoning County service plazas comes at a time when the Mahoning Valley is experiencing an economic resurgence. Hodges noted he is from western Ohio but has been coming to the area for 30 years. “I don’t recall a time in my life here that there’s been this sense of optimism or the renewed sense of hope that exists throughout the region. It’s an exciting time,” he remarked.
“We’re experiencing unprecedented growth here in the Mahoning Valley after many years of decline,” added Tony Paglia, vice president for government affairs with the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber. “We’re excited about that and what that means is there are a lot of people coming into the Valley, a lot of business people, a lot of travelers. They’re going to be coming through the turnpike using these facilities and I’m sure they’re going to value the experience that they will have here.”
Paglia noted the Mahoning Valley turnpike exchanges are among the most heavily traveled on the toll road.
The two plazas cost $30 million to develop and will create 450 full- and part-time jobs, Hodges said. “I don’t think people realize the impact of these service plazas on the local economy,” he remarked.
Opening with the plazas were Covelli-operated Panera Bread bakery and cafes, bringing to six the total number of Panera locations on the Ohio Turnpike, the others at service plazas near Cleveland and Sandusky. The new Paneras will be joined in two weeks by Dairy Queen Grill and Chill locations in each service plaza. “This is fun. It’ll be a fun thing to complement Panera,” Covelli said.
Each of the Paneras in the service plazas is 3,391 square feet and the DQ Brill and Chills are 1,167 square feet. The Paneras, which will operate around the clock, will offer the chain’s full menu during the day and more limited offerings overnight, while the DQ locations will offer its full menu of hamburgers, hot dogs and ice cream treats but will not operate overnight.
“We’re giving customers a choice and we think we have every choice there is in the two restaurants. So it’ll be exciting,” Covelli remarked.
Approximately 150 employees have been hired for the restaurants in both service plazas and hiring is still under way.
Copyright 2013 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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