$138 Million Invested Downtown Since 1998

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Dan Rossi’s plans for his downtown properties reflect his optimism about his business prospects here.

Rossi is the president and founder of FEIC Financial Inc., a portfolio asset management company, and the more recently established FEIC Business Equity Solutions. The latter provides valuation services for succession planning, which includes the sale of companies.

Rossi plans to raze two of the buildings at the rear of his property to provide surface parking for his employees, at least initially.

His goal is to build a parking deck with 85 to 120 spaces. That development “would depend on our growth and how quick that growth is occurring,” Rossi says. Demolition of the buildings is in the works and he anticipates the lot should be completed by spring.

Rossi, who has done extensive renovations on FEIC’s downtown properties that include buildings that once housed the first downtown post office and Hartzell’s Rose & Sons clothing store, brought FEIC Financial downtown in 1981.

“We mainly came here to support the downtown,” he states. “The sense has always been that if downtown grows, then the inner city neighborhoods would start to grow also.”

Over the past 17 years, the downtown has seen investment of some $138 million, according to Tom Humphries, president and CEO of the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber and a board member of the Youngstown Central Area Community Improvement Corp. That includes $46 million in projects the CIC manages as well as Youngstown State University’s $34 million Williamson Hall, the Nathaniel R. Jones Federal Building and the Covelli Centre. All contributed to spurring much of downtown’s development.

“There’s a lot of pats on the back to go around to lots of people,” Humphries says. Among those who deserve credit are Dominic J. Marchionda, who successfully developed several buildings into apartment properties and who plans to convert the Stambaugh Building into a Doubletree by Hilton hotel, and Richard Mills, president of Ohio One Corp., which owns and manages several downtown buildings.

“If it weren’t for Rich Mills staying and taking care of the east side of Federal, this town would have slipped even further,” Humphries says. He also praises David Sweet, former president of YSU, for achievements in linking the university with the downtown.

Mayor John McNally credits decisions made years ago for progress in the downtown, such as those of his predecessors including Patrick Ungaro, and the creation of the downtown CIC. “All those decisions over the past 25 years have paved the way to a downtown that is continuing to grow,” he says.

For several years, the city devoted many of its resources to developing its business parks because that was the “lower hanging fruit,” says city Finance Director David Bozanich, and there was a need to create as many higher-paying jobs as possible, particularly in manufacturing.

Having succeeded “beyond our wildest dreams” with the parks, Bozanich says, the city took a similar approach to downtown, promoting development through the Youngstown Initiative program and with utility grants to downtown projects. Downtown also benefited from the establishment of an entertainment district that authorized more liquor licenses.

The major game changer downtown, Bozanich says, was development of the Covelli Centre. With that project, the city made a “conscientious decision” to spend money to build something that wasn’t just a large gymnasium, he says. “We knew what we had to do to attract people downtown,” Bozanich remarks.

When Strollo Architects formed in 1956, downtown Youngstown was the hub of commerce between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, says partner Gregg Strollo. Since then, the firm’s ownership has felt “more of a social responsibility than anything else to stay,” he says. “We like to think it’s on the upswing and we want to be a participant in that as we have been on all the other upswings.”

In early December, contractors were putting the finishing touches on his firm’s new offices in the renovated Wells Building – a $5 million project – where it will occupy the first floor and part of the basement after moving from its offices on the sixth floor of 20 Federal Place.

The second, third and fourth floors of the Wells Building will be apartments to help meet the growing demand for residential space downtown, a market proven by the success of Erie Terminal Place, the Federal Building, Realty Tower and Wick Tower. Wick Tower opened to renters in late summer.

“It’ll be a wonderful living environment for those that choose to live downtown,” Strollo says. Four of its 12 units already have signed tenants “without really hanging out a shingle,” he says.

Moving from downtown was never a consideration when plans were made to transform the former Children’s Museum of the Valley into Oh Wow! The Roger & Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science & Technology, says the center president, Suzanne Barbati. Over the past six years, nearly $3 million has been invested in the former McCrory’s store building, home of the center, including more than $300,000 just in the past year, she reports.

“We wanted to be neighbors with[the Youngstown Business Incubator]. We wanted to be close to the university. We wanted to be in close proximity on the bus routes,” she says. “All of those things were considerations when we decided to stay in the downtown area.”

Entrepreneur Christian Rinehart opened his first downtown restaurant, O’Donold’s Irish Pub, three years ago, and his second, Suzie’s Dogs & Drafts, nearly two years ago.

“Some people see empty buildings as something negative. I saw it as a way to easily start a company,” he says. He has invested about $500,000 in the two downtown storefronts, he says, which collectively employ 45.

Richard Hahn, CEO of Keynote Media Group, describes moving his marketing and advertising agency downtown as the best business move the company ever made.

Keynote had worked on Jay Williams’ run for mayor in 2005 and Hahn said if Williams won, he would move his business downtown. “Son of a gun, he won, so I wanted to be part of the change and the renaissance,” he says.

Keynote initially moved into 20 Federal Place and now has its offices in the Commerce Building, an Ohio One Corp. property. The agency has 10 clients downtown, Hahn says, so he walks to most meetings or his clients walk to his offices. He also enjoys encountering clients, friends and other people when he walks to the post office or the bank, for example. “That is the real value of being downtown,” he says.

The 100-year-old Central YMCA building on North Champion Street, last renovated in 1970, is preparing to embark on a $5 million update. “Society has changed dramatically and so have the needs of our members,” says Tim Hilk, CEO of the YMCA of Youngstown.

The project “repurposes us to meet the needs of 2015 and moving forward,” Hilk says. In the plans are extensive renovations of the first and second floors, such as consolidating wellness services on the second.

Meanwhile he city is working to address one frequently cited concern – parking – as well as on development of the former Wean United property into an amphitheater and a park “that would make downtown complete for the more permanent residents of downtown,” McNally says. The mayor would also like to add amenities downtown such as a pharmacy and grocery store to serve the growing residential population.

Pictured: Dan Rossi, founder and president of FEIC Financial Inc., moved his business to downtown Youngstown in 1981.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.