20 Federal Tenants Share Eviction Concerns at Meeting

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Attendees at a town hall meeting about the fate of the tenants of 20 Federal Place came away with little new information Monday evening.

About 40 people, including a handful of the building’s tenants, were at last night’s forum, which was hosted by Action and held at St. John’s Episcopal Church.

The meeting took place roughly a week after tenants of the city-owned building received eviction notices ranging from 30- to 180 days to accommodate environmental remediation work taking place as part of the city’s plans to redevelop the building.

Late last week, the office of Mayor Jamael Tito Brown announced that Steadfast City Economic and Community Partners, a St. Louis consulting firm working with the city, would begin meeting, starting today, with building tenants to discuss their options.

Among the tenants attending Monday’s forum was Kim Mitchell, owner of Two Guys Clothing, which is on the ground floor of 20 Federal. She said the city should have held a tenant meeting to discuss what was happening with the building ahead of time.

She built up her business over 17 years with her blood and sweat, she said.  

“I’m just so tired. I’m really tired,” she remarked. She wants to remain downtown because that’s where her clientele is.  

Esther Lee, who identified herself as the wife of the pastor at the Korean church Mitchell attends, accompanied her Monday.  She said Mitchell was in shock after receiving the eviction letter July 7 and has been sick for the last few days.

“She didn’t know what to do,” Lee said.

Hachem Jafar, owner of the Capitol Grill in 20 Federal’s food court, estimated the cost of relocating his business at $20,000 or more, and relocation will take time.

Christine Mechling, Capitol Grill’s manager, said customers regularly ask where the business is going to go, a question she can’t answer.  

“We’re probably going to end up like five, six months without income,” Jafar said. He said he is meeting with Steadfast City representatives today. 

“There’s been months to be able to have these conversations,” First Ward Councilman Julius Oliver said. Council members wanted building tenants notified last year.

“For whatever reason, that plan kept getting pushed back, pushed back and pushed back to the point where it just never happened. And then it was a surprise to all of us, including City Council, that these letters went out,” Oliver

said.  He emphasized that the state brownfield grant money has to be used by June 2023, and tenants need to be evacuated for the remediation work to take place.

“I am sorry that this is what you guys are experiencing,” Derrick McDowell, owner of the Youngstown Flea, said. “I am devastated to hear that people are losing sleep, that they are shocked that they are sick to their stomach. … You are not our city’s next headline. You are humans who deserve our best effort.”

McDowell reported that Jim Ambrose of Desmone, the Pittsburgh firm the city has been working with to redevelop 20 Federal, wanted to attend but didn’t “want to confuse the situation” further.

“He asked me personally to let you know that this is not what he intended for you all either,” he said.

Oliver sympathized with the building’s tenants as a fellow business owner who, because of the business downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, had to relocate his Kingly Hand Car Wash & Wax from Niles to buildings he owned in Youngstown. He urged people to support the building’s businesses and to call City Hall to urge the administration to provide assistance.

Oliver reported that representatives of GreenHeart Companies and owners of other downtown buildings, including the Chase Tower and First National Bank Building, have contacted him about potentially providing space for 20 Federal tenants.  

McDowell offered to assist tenants by providing space at his building on East Boardman Street.

“If you need a soft place to land for a few months, come see me,” even if only for storage, he said.

The councilman advised that rents likely will be higher in the renovated building than they are now. The project is estimated to cost about $74 million.

He urged building tenants to have a plan for when they meet with Steadfast officials and an estimated budget for how much assistance they think they will need.

“I’m not saying that they’re actually going to provide some type of assistance, but we [in City Council] are going to ask for it,” he said. Legislation likely will come after building tenants share their needs with the Steadfast representatives.

“Now, would there have been a need for a monetary assistance prior if this would have happened months ago? I don’t think so,” he said.

“You have a right to demand a few things, because you’re contributing to the fabric of the city and its future,” McDowell said.

“We are here to support you and listen to your story from now until you are resettled and blossoming even better than you are now,” said Vicki Vicars, lead organizer with Action.

Vicars said Monday’s meeting was “a good first step” in the community showing support for tenants of 20 Federal Place, and she hoped that message of support gets back to them.

Oliver said it was good to hear from the building tenants and for them to hear from a city official “how this wasn’t the original plan and this is basically working backwards,” as well as letting them know they need to come to the table with demands and expectations.  

Pictured at top: First Ward Councilman Julius Oliver and moderator Mike McNair.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.