Economic Development

Lowellville Eyes Industrial Park, Business Incentives

LOWELLVILLE, Ohio — Mayor Jim Iudiciani noses his large white pickup truck through McGaffney Avenue and onto a gravel strip that leads into 360 vacant acres along the southern bank of the Mahoning River.

Much of the land is covered with brush and trees. But about five, if not more, acres at the entrance are cleared – a perfect site for the first phase of an important economic development anchor for this small community.

“We’re excited,” Iudiciani says as he looks across the empty parcel. A local company, Penn-Ohio Sealers, bought 10 acres here and on five of them plans to build a new maintenance and service operation, he says. The company plans to use its remaining acreage to construct new buildings for lease in what would become a fledgling industrial park.

“Ten acres will be open to for development, and right now I know of two interested companies,” Iudiciani says.

The proposed industrial park is just one of several development projects that could pump millions of dollars into this village of 1,155 people. Plans to upgrade the wastewater treatment plant are in motion as are efforts to improve thoroughfares and remove a dam on the Mahoning River. Meanwhile, business owners and other stakeholders in the community are preparing to invest their own private funds to help leverage downtown redevelopment.

Making this development possible requires a menu of state and local programs geared toward encouraging new-business growth and job creation, the mayor says. Most recently, Village Council approved the Lowellville Incentive Grant program – a program that reimburses new or existing companies that are expanding with proceeds from the village’s 2% income tax,

“We’re the first in the Mahoning Valley to do something like this, and we’ve got a gentlemen to invest,” Iudiciani says, pointing to the Penn-Ohio project. “That’s what it takes.”

According to Iudiciani, Penn-Ohio plans to spend at least $800,000 on new construction and equipment for its expansion, create at least eight jobs and relocate 40, and maintain a payroll of $1.5 million. The village wants to secure another $1.8 million for a new roadway and utilities that would lead into the proposed park.

Under the new program, over seven years, Penn-Ohio would be rebated 60% annually of the income tax it pays to Lowellville, the mayor says. The level of reimbursement and the duration of the program depend largely on two factors – the amount of investment and the company’s payroll. “In the end, it’s all about creating jobs,” he says.

A representative from Penn-Ohio said it is too early to comment on the project.

Securing funding for new infrastructure is vital to the industrial park project, Iudiciani says. The village is working with JobsOhio and the Ohio Department of Transportation to land about $700,000 in funding. Once that is lined up, the mayor says, he would pursue additional funding through the Community Development Block Grant funds or Ohio Public Works programs.

“We’re also looking at creating a TIF [tax increment financing],” the mayor says. Under a TIF program, a portion of the property taxes generated by a new development is used to pay for infrastructure such as roads and sewers that serve that project. In this case, some of the property taxes Penn-Ohio pays would be used to offset the costs of constructing the new road in case the village had to borrow money to build it.

An industrial park on the west end of downtown would help create further incentives for business growth, while encouraging investment in the heart of the village, Iudiciani says.

Indeed, there is evidence that it’s already happening, the mayor says. Falcon Foundry, the largest employer in the village, wants to expand its footprint and grow to the tune of $1 million, he reports, while the village’s wastewater treatment plant is preparing for $1.3 million in upgrades.

Although at least one downtown building is beyond repair and likely to be razed, others are attracting interest from potential buyers and developers, Iudiciani continues.

“RC Compound recently bought the old Huntington Bank building,” the mayor says. The company, a pharmaceuticals firm in Poland, wants to increase its business and is looking to expand into Lowellville. “[The owner is] refurbishing the building himself.”

First, one of the older buildings that sits next to the former bank – the Cunningham building – must come down because the structure is beyond salvage, Iudiciani says. “We’ve condemned it.”

Across the street, another building owned by the same landlord sits vacant, but a potential buyer who grew up in Lowellville and now lives in Boston wants to acquire it. “She has dreams and vision to make it into an ice cream parlor, a little shop, and an office,” Iudiciani adds.

This interest coincides with an ambitious plan to remake the entire downtown by installing new sidewalks and curbs, repaving the streets, and installing decorative lighting throughout or near the central business district, the mayor says. Work will begin next year on $261,000 worth of new curbs and sidewalks along Third Street, made possible through a Community Development Block Grant.

Simultaneously, the village has targeted $173,000 in curb replacement, new decorative lighting, and pavement resurfacing along Water Street, the main thoroughfare downtown.

Both downtown revitalization projects should begin sometime in July 2016. And, last month, the village applied for $300,000 in block grant money to augment other funds to help refurbish businesses and structures downtown, Iudiciani notes.

The program would provide a 50% reimbursement to companies that commit to investing in their downtown properties, the mayor says. Established businesses such as the Riverview Lounge, on Water Street and overlooking the Mahoning River, for example, have for years planned to build a dock that accommodates kayaks and canoes. Thirteen downtown businesses have signed on to support the program, he adds.

“The village is making this investment through grants, through our matching funds and through business participation,” Iudiciani says.

Quality of life is a large part of the village’s appeal, especially the draw of the Mahoning River, which on this July day courses at full speed because of the recent heavy rains. This year, work is scheduled to begin on tearing out a dam on the Mahoning and dredging several contaminated areas to accommodate sportsmen.

“It will increase the water quality. By taking out the dam, it creates more velocity in the water and creates more oxygen,” the mayor says. “It’s all about the warm-water habitat. There were fishermen wading near the banks a week ago.”

The entire project should take the best part of a year to complete and cost roughly $2 million, he says. The funds were made available through the Water Resource Restoration Sponsorship Program, a program administered through the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. Lowellville was sponsored by the city of Canton on the project.

Jennifer Brown, economic development strategist for CT Consultants, a Youngstown firm working with the village, relates that Lowellville has the type of small-town charm that could greatly benefit from federal, state and local grant programs.

“It has some historic buildings and the downtown is still intact,” she says. “I see a lot of opportunity. It’s a tight-knit community and close to a metropolitan area.”

CT Consultants is responsible for helping the village identify and then leverage funding opportunities to improve its infrastructure, economic base and its quality of life. “People look for a lot of different experiences,” Brown says. “You see a lot of communities trying to create a downtown. It’s already here.”

Before accepting a job at CT four months ago, Brown was assistant city manager in Geneva, Ohio, where she helped secure grants and funding for low-to-moderate-income areas. “Lowellville’s statistics are much better than the community I came from,” she says.

A revived downtown is essential to maintaining the village’s small-town appeal, which draws crowds from throughout the Mahoning Valley for events such as its Monday Night classic car drive-ins to the popular Mount Carmel Festival, adds Jerry Colaneri, a tax preparer and treasurer of the Lowellville Business Association.

“They’re making progress,” he says of the village administration. “There are a lot of people here who want to make investments and spur revitalization. It’s a great thing.”

On Monday evenings, for example, classic car enthusiasts descend on the small town. “This place gets jammed. We get about 400 cars,” Colaneri relates.

The Business Association was revived in 2005, Colaneri says, after years of neglect. Since then, the organization has raised money for scholarships and other local causes in the community. “We’ve contributed at least $30,000 to different uses over the last 10 years or so,” he says.

It’s this sort of reclamation that Iudiciani – after 12 years as mayor – is aiming for throughout the community.

“It’s exciting times throughout the village,” he says. “You’re going to see new streets, new sidewalks, new curbs, new asphalt, decorative lighting, the buildings brought up to code with businesses coming in. It’s going to be a revitalization in Lowellville like it was during the 1960s and 1970s and before.”

Pictured: Mayor Jim Iudiciani and Jennifer Brown from CT Consultants say Lowellville’s small-town charm is one of its greatest assets.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.