Economic Development

McGiffin Outlines Downtown Events at Chamber Breakfast

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – This summer will be a busy one downtown.

With the traditional annual festivals like Simply Slavic and the Youngstown Italian Festival as anchors, downtown will see “three to five” new art and film festivals during the summer and fall months, director of downtown of events Mike McGiffin said at today’s Good Morning, Youngstown breakfast.

“With the influx of event promoters to the city to host their events here, I can assure you that this summer, you’ll see a lot out of us. If you bear with us, you’ll see some growing pains, but also some experimental events,” McGiffin told the audience. “Expect to see the same traditional festivals, expect them to be a bit bigger, expect them to be better advertised and expect them to shine this summer.”

The experimental events, he said, include a charity event for Beatitude House where volunteers will rappel from the 15th floor of First National Bank Tower. Also, while not finalized, his office is “entertaining the idea” of a 1,000-foot slip-and-slide down the Market Street bridge, also a charity event.

An official events list will be released in April.

Construction will begin on Phelps Street this summer, McGiffin said, to do work underground and resurface the street. Once construction is finished, he added, one idea being thrown around is to close off the street between Federal and Commerce Streets and turn it into a outdoor walkway and patio area.

“Think East Fourth Street in Cleveland, but smaller,” he said.

And while the idea of an amphitheater and greenspace between the South Avenue bridge and the western edge of the former Wean United property is “still in its infant stages,” if the plan goes forward and is completed, it will free up Federal Plaza from the festivals that shut down the area to traffic.

All festivals and downtown events would be welcome to use the park and amphitheater, he said.

With so many events being added so quickly, McGiffin said the city can only continue to improve.

“We have people knocking on our door and a room full of people working on improving the city. We’ve turned the corner,” he said. “And the same is true with events downtown. We’re taking Youngstown back. We’re getting out of our way and making sure this is where we can live, work and play.”

Mayor John McNally also gave his State of the City speech at the event, touching as well on some of the developments downtown, including the amphitheater.

“Interest in downtown is very strong, as you all know,” he said. “The Wick Building is expected to open this summer. The Wells Building is under construction. The Gallagher Building will begin its renovation soon. All of these projects bring in a combined investment of more than $20 million.”

Last month, it was announced that the city would not be selling 20 Federal Place. McNally said at the event that the city, as landlords, would continue to improve the building for the tenants, noting past upgrades to the elevators and escalators, air conditioning and windows.

“We decided that because have about 1,400 people who work there and 75% of the space occupied, that right now it’s probably too big of a building to simply sell away. We want to maintain it as a landmark building in downtown Youngstown,” McNally said.

He also announced that plans are in the works to add new signs around downtown directing visitors to parking and entertainment venues.

“The project is for people who are new to the area or who are coming in for concerts or business. It’ll also help clear up downtown Youngstown and make it more clear what’s public parking or free parking after 5 p.m. for events. It’ll identify destinations and entertainment,” he said. “With Covelli Centre, with an amphitheater, with a greenspace or park downtown, we’ll have a need for better, cleaner signage.”

McNally also announced that for the third year in a row, crime in the major eight categories have fallen; homicides are down 5%, robberies 28%, burglaries 12%, theft 9%, auto theft 20%, aggravated assault 9% and arson has dropped 15%.

“We have a proactive police force that’s out looking for issues rather than waiting for things to happen. When major issues do arise, the police meet not only internally but with some external partners to identify people and trends,” he said. “Youngstown has no doubt become a safer place to live and work and it’s because of our police department and the partners they have in the Mahoning Valley.”

Echoing similar remarks made by Gov. John Kasich in his State of the State address regarding infant mortality, McNally announced a partnership between Mercy Health, the county and city health districts and other social service agencies. The Youngstown area has the second highest rate of infant mortality in Ohio at 12.1 deaths per 1,000 births. The state ranks 48th in the country, McNally said.

“It’s an economic development issue and a societal one. Mahoning County’s health district and Youngstown’s health district have partnered with 33 other providers and institutions to improve our numbers,” he said. “We want to work on and improve the quality of life and the troubling numbers. It’ll be a long-term project, but it’s something that needs to be focused on.”

Closing out the breakfast event, which was presented by the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber, was Monica Jones, dean of the Youngstown Early College, who highlighted the successes students have seen since its inception.

“We’ve given families access to college for free. Not just a high school diploma, but a college degree before they’re 19 years old. I think that’s phenomenal. They are high-achieving young people,” she said. “Because we serve a population of students who are considered at-risk and underrepresented, the mindset is that they can’t achieve. That is not the case.”

The early college has had a 100% graduation rate over the past two years. Since 2008, 63 students have graduated from the high school with an associate’s degree and 19 have graduated with a bachelor’s degree. Jones added that only 3% of graduates take remedial courses once they’re in college and 89% of students who graduate from Youngstown Early College enroll in college.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.