Economic Development

Wick Avenue Traffic Gets a Green Light

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – It took more than a decade to get the renovation of Wick Avenue from conception to implementation. Then, once work began, it took more than a year to get it to completion.

But once the work was wrapped up and the ribbon cut this morning, it took less than an hour to get the barricades down and the road open to traffic once more.

“It looks like the original renderings we saw, so we’re thrilled about that. This shows that if you work together as a group, you can have great things happen,” said Mayor John McNally. “I’m not sure that happened all the time in the past, but this serves as a model for future projects.”

Started in September 2016, the project included the burying of utility lines, the installation of new lighting, repaving and configuring the road – one lane, now, in each direction and a central left turn lane – and landscaping from McGuffey Avenue to Wood Street.

The initial discussions about revamping the Wick Avenue corridor – home to prominent  cultural institutions such as the Butler Institute of America Art, the Public Library of Youngstown & Mahoning County and the Mahoning Valley Historical Society – began in 2005, said Youngstown CityScape President Sharon Letson. The following years were spent figuring out if such a project was feasible, how to go about it and gathering input from stakeholders.

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“It’s game-changing for how we look at ourselves as a city, how we look at our capacity for what we can do and how we can raise the bar for the standard of what we expect from ourselves,” she said.

What most of the leaders at the ribbon-cutting praised was the cooperation and communication between groups. When plans changed, nearby stakeholders were notified and their input was sought.

As an example, Letson pointed to a retaining wall under the pedestrian bridge crossing Wick Avenue. When the original choice for the materials wasn’t available, CityScape and city planners reached out to the Butler Institute to reach a decision on the how the new façade should look.

“The things you don’t see are the conversations and meetings and partnerships with stakeholders along the avenue,” she said. “With any project, you have your plan and things deviate and you have to come up with a solution. The neighbors along Wick Avenue had lots of discussions, lots of input, and with the aesthetic we were after, we’re proud of what we achieved.”

During the project, visitors always had access to the institutions along Wick Avenue, although the most direct option wasn’t always available.

“I’ve gotten a few calls from Joey Cassese [of MVR] asking when this’ll be done so he can have people park on the street and see the end of that line of cars coming out of the parking deck,” the mayor quipped at the ceremony.

Afterward, he added, “I’m not sure that I got a complaint from the public. They always had access. It might not have been the most direct route, but the inconveniences are why we’re at where we’re at today.”

The work along Wick Avenue follows another project on Lincoln Avenue, noted YSU President Jim Tressel. Both caused some inconveniences for students, professors, staff and visitors, but are well worth it as the university becomes the central node of the unification of the medical district surrounding St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital, the YSU campus, downtown and Mill Creek Park’s recreation amenities.

“The importance of [the Wick Avenue project] to Youngstown State University is that it’s important to everyone. It’s important to the city. It’s important to the future of our region,” Tressel said. “That’s the way you build a whole environment. So the next thing is Fifth Avenue and Rayen Avenue all the way out to Chill-Can and Commerce Street with the innovation center. It’s a big project and we have to, one by one, check them off.”

There is one downside to the project, at least for Tressel: the return of traffic. The house he and his wife, Ellen, live in is on the corner of Wick Avenue and Spring Street in the center of the rejuvenated corridor.

“It was nice to live on a quiet street for a year and not have traffic,” he said at the ceremony with a laugh. “I gained an appreciation for the complexity. The complexity of a project when you’re crossing so many streets and have so many things with the infrastructure, I marvel at how the engineers understood how to go about it.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.