Our Towns

Infrastructure Upgrades, Shepherd Campus on Tap in Liberty

LIBERTY TOWNSHIP, Ohio — Motorists driving along Belmont Avenue in Liberty Township might be forgiven for a bit of frustration. The ongoing $3.2 million upgrade to the township’s main corridor can cause consternation, Administrator Pat Ungaro and trustee Jodi Stoyak acknowledge.

But they also recognize the benefits that work will bear.

The Belmont Avenue project originally was supposed to be only a curb-to-curb resurfacing improvement, but the township received an additional $1.2 million from the Ohio Department of Transportation for curbs and other upgrades following a meeting with ODOT District 4 officials, Stoyak recalls.

The District 4 director “clearly stated that when a road looks good, it does encourage economic development,” Stoyak says. “And it encourages the businesses that are there to fix up their facades and paint their buildings.”

“We have so many projects on the board,” Ungaro, former mayor of neighboring Youngstown, says. “When you have a lot of projects, some may not happen but some do. But when you have nothing on the board, I can guarantee nothing happens.”

Upcoming projects in the township include Shepherd of the Valley’s planned campus on Tibbetts-Wick Road, where it purchased 55 acres.

“We are going to be hopefully breaking ground in July of 2018,” says CEO Rich Limongi. The new Liberty center will have skilled nursing, assisted living, memory care and apartment living, with options for one- and two-bedroom units, he says.

Stoyak notes that the former Campus Health Care nursing home is getting a new lease on life as a short-term, inpatient behavioral health center and a staffing agency with 400 clients is moving into the space occupied by Ohio Utilities Protection Services, she says.

Bringing Walmart to the Liberty Plaza a decade ago helped to revitalize that retail space. “The plaza is filled now,” Ungaro says, adding that the arrival of the retail chain spurred new arrivals in the Belmont Plaza Shopping Center, including grocery chain Aldi.

Another “big project” – if it goes through – is in store for the former Kmart property on Belmont. “I thought that would be a hot piece of property that would go quickly,” he says, although he adds he is optimistic something will be there soon.

He also expects to announce a new franchise restaurant coming to the corner of Goldie Road and Belmont Avenue.

Liberty Local Schools is positioning itself to, within the next few years, make the greatest changes the district has seen in the past two decades, reports Superintendent Joe Nohra. The district board of education is going through strategic planning to examine how the district is configured.

A reconfiguration could mean reducing the district from the three buildings it uses to two, using the extra building for career and technical programs.

“The district is also going to be looking at all of our academic programs and we’re putting expansion on the table,” Nohra says. “We’re no longer in fiscal emergency so we have the ability to look at growing our programs again.”

A decade ago, Liberty was at the forefront of the STEAM – science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics – education movement, but such programs were cut because of the fiscal emergency, he says. Robotics has been reintroduced, and the district is looking at programs that embrace inquiry-based learning, problem-based learning and nontraditional (student-based) learning. The district also is bolstering its athletics programs and repurposing the old high school as a youth activity center.

The township’s revitalization efforts have not come without obstacles, Ungaro and Stoyak acknowledge. Plans to bring Home Depot and Sheetz to the township years ago were scuttled because of the mortgage crisis a decade ago, which led banks to restrict their lending.

Also, when Ungaro – who as mayor of Youngstown used brownfield sites to create industrial parks – took the administrator’s job 14 years ago, he envisioned using the same methods in Liberty with sites on Belmont Avenue and Tibbetts-Wick Road.

“I actually talked to people and had them willing to sell their property,” he said.

A community improvement corporation was formed to pursue economic development in the township. Then he discovered that the township is prohibited from spending money on economic development. “So that kind of killed my big plan,” he laments.

Stoyak credits Ungaro with reinventing his plan by providing the township with information on how to create its community reinvestment area. Put in place six years ago, the districting allows the township to offer businesses a 49% abatement on property taxes, although the Trumbull County Board of Commissioners must approve the deals.

“We have a couple of businesses that have benefited from that,” Stoyak says.

Ungaro notes the township is benefiting from residential growth as well as people move there then commute to work in places such as Cleveland and Pittsburgh because of the easy access to Interstate 80.

Stoyak also would like to see a revival of the Liberty Business Association, which became inactive three years ago, she says.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.