Mayor Eyes Annual Checks on Downtown Buildings
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Mayor Chuck Sammarone is considering an ordinance that would require downtown property owners to conduct yearly engineering studies that determine whether their buildings are structurally sound.
"We want to be proactive, not reactive," the mayor said. "We've been fortunate that no one's been hurt."
Last Sunday, Sammarone explained, bricks fell from the First National Bank Tower onto the sidewalk, causing the city to require that its owner, Lou Frangos, cordon off the entrance to the building.
Crews were on site Wednesday performing work on a portion of Federal Plaza, caution tape stretched along the FNB Tower's Market Street entrance, and long cables extended above the ninth floor of the 17-story building.
The mayor said he met Tuesday with Frangos and one of his engineers, informing the owner that he wanted a report within seven days on what caused the bricks to come loose. Frangos replied that it would be finished by the end of this week, Sammarone said.
"It should be done by Friday," Sammarone noted.
Downtown buildings have deteriorated over the years, and many haven't been kept up, Sammarone said. "A lot of these buildings are old," he noted.
The city closed the A-1 Parking Deck this year for code violations when chunks of that building fell off. That deck has since reopened and a new commercial tenant is expected to soon move into the ground floor.
In August, bricks from the Wick Building fell from the exterior and that building has since been repaired. In 2008, a window from the Stambaugh Building fell to the ground as workers attempted to remove it. All of the windows in the Stambaugh were eventually replaced.
Frangos earlier said he was considering selling the First National Bank Tower, the former St. Vincent DePaul building and the Harshman Building to Wick Ohio One LLC, an entity owned by Pan Brothers Associates of New York City and a former partner of Frangos.
However, Frangos responded in an email, "The properties did not sell, and our company is the sole owner of these three buildings."
Earlier this year, Frangos sold his 50% interest in the Realty Towers, the Stambaugh Building and an adjoining parking deck to Wick Ohio.
Wick Ohio plans to enter into a partnership with developer Dominic Marchionda, who is remodeling the Erie Terminal Building and is looking to do the same with the Wick Building downtown.
Marchionda could not be reached for comment on the status of those buildings.
Sammarone said that as the downtown becomes busier and attracts more tenants – both residential and commercial – it's imperative that the structures remain intact and sound.
The city law director, Anthony Farris, is studying how to proceed in drafting an ordinance that would require property owners to perform annual engineering studies and inspections intended to address any issues involving the soundness of exteriors of these buildings. The same goes for city-owned structures downtown, Sammarone noted.
He cites the former Phar-Mor Building, now 20 Federal Place, as a prime example of how the city must spend general funds to maintain a landmark building that it owns.
"I don’t believe the city does well when it comes to owning properties," Sammarone said. "It's my experience that we just don't do a good job."
That's why Sammarone is considering selling 20 Federal Place to a private party and is also exploring leasing or selling the Covelli Centre.
The mayor said interest rates are favorable to real estate buyers at present and he thinks 20 Federal Place should prove attractive to investors. He also believes the market is right for a customer to lease the Covelli Centre, something that should cover the $11.9 million debt on the building and its operational costs.
These measures are part of a study by PFM Group, commissioned by the city to provide recommendations on how to make municipal government more efficient.
"We're looking at implementing the study over the next three months," Sammarone said.
Copyright 2012 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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