Advocate: There’s ‘Another Path Forward’ for Realty Tower, Downtown

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A downtown advocate maintains there’s a path to stabilize the Realty Tower but, in the meantime, he is calling on stakeholders to support affected businesses.

Scott Schulick, chairman of the board of Youngstown CityScape and president of the board of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society, posted a letter on Facebook on Friday that he sent to downtown stakeholders.

A May 28 explosion at the building wiped out its first floor, and surrounding businesses and streets have been closed since. The building owners plan to demolish it, although no timeline has been announced.

“Most of you have indicated that you are disappointed to hear the ‘final’ decision of the building owners,” Schulick wrote in a Facebook post Friday morning. “We have learned that stabilization will be faster than demolition to get downtown open and people back home and to work.”

The post attached a letter from Structural Systems Repair Group, the Cincinnati-based engineering firm hired by the city to evaluate the building, written Wednesday to local architect Paul Hagman.

“It is the opinion of SSRG that the Realty Tower can be safely and structurally stabilized to allow interested parties to then pursue restoration or controlled structural demolition of the property,” the letter from the company said.

SSRG performed a visual inspection of the building June 20. The letter from the company lays out the “process to appropriately quantify the stabilization effort.” It listed steps:

  • SSRG is engaged to produce a formal structural report and stabilization scope via a third-party structural firm at a cost of $15,000.
  • SSRG produces a price-based proposal of stabilization work, roughly estimated at $500,000 to $750,0000.
  • SSRG installs seismic monitors on the building and begins stabilization activities.

“The intention of this project is for SSRG to evaluate, validate and perform structural stabilization activities to remove the public safety concern of catastrophe,” the letter said. “Our installed scope will serve as a semi-permanent shoring while the future of the building is discussed.”

Schulick, who initially wrote to downtown stakeholders two weeks ago, wrote in the letter that Hagman entered the building with SSRG staff last week for their initial assessment, “and he indicates that it is very likely the building can be saved, providing a quicker path for the opening of State Route 7, other businesses and the return of residents in nearby buildings.”  

It’s unclear why the owners won’t permit SSRG to access the building to complete seismic GPS evaluations, he said.

Schulick relayed the activities since the May 28 explosion that killed Chase Bank employee Akil Drake, 27.

He listed the displacement of Realty residents; the continued closure of the DoubleTree by Hilton Youngstown Downtown hotel, Bistro 1907 and Chase and Huntington banks; the evacuation of the International Towers; the continued closure of state Route 7, as well as other street closures because of construction; the pending closure of Eastern Gateway Community College; a canceled downtown festival; and struggling downtown businesses.

“Most of downtown is offline and the economic impact is likely now in the millions and growing fast,” he wrote. “We must find a way to open roads and provide free parking so that businesses can sustain themselves.”

Scott Schulick, vice president, investment, at Stifel Nicolaus and president of Youngstown CityScape’s board of directors.

He mentioned the announcement earlier this month that the Realty Tower was in imminent danger of collapse, but after evacuating International Towers and establishing a 210-foot radius collapse zone around Realty, “there has been no imminent action on the part of the owners/property managers and the City to provide any kind of stabilization in the name of public safety.”

He called it baffling that nearly a month after the explosion, the site has remained virtually untouched.

“Would this be acceptable in any other city in America? Where is the leadership? It is clear there is another path forward,” Schulick wrote, referencing the SSRG letter.

He said many supporters have learned that either demolition or repair/restoration will take more time, cost and continued closure of the area than most anticipate. 

“There have also been overtures that some of you have received, that the current owners may be willing to walk away if other entities were interested in buying ownership interest or assuming control for a repair and restoration,” he said.

But the building has to be deemed safe, stable and insurable first.

The Realty Tower in downtown Youngstown was damaged by an explosion May 28.

“I hope, as a community, we have the collective will to consider that option and negotiate such an option with the owners, insurance company and the City, so that new owners who have downtown’s best interest in mind could move forward,” Schulick wrote. “Mayor [Jamael Tito] Brown and the owners/property managers are squandering an opportunity to be heroes for downtown’s future, to keep the historic central square intact, and risk forging a legacy as the destroyers of downtown’s future.”

He urged downtown stakeholders and supporters to be vocal with the mayor and the building owners, listed in property records as YO Properties 47 LLC, about downtown’s future.

“I know that we all are willing to work with them to secure a brighter future for downtown if they are willing to come to the table to have such a discussion,” Schulick wrote. “I know that Mayor Brown sincerely cares about downtown’s future, and wish him success as he navigates this situation.”

He also credited Councilman Julius Oliver, 1st Ward, and U.S. Rep. Michael Rulli, R-6th, for their leadership, saying he’s communicated with them many times over the past few weeks.

“Regardless of the outcomes of Realty, we must call on state and federal officials for administrative guidance to navigate a process to move downtown forward out of this tragedy and to provide financial support for stabilization and struggling businesses,” Schulick wrote. “A coalition of federal, state and local philanthropy resources can surely make this happen.”

While he still wants to call a meeting with downtown supporters and stakeholders, he said that’s difficult until the building is stabilized.

“In the meantime, let us do all we can to support the businesses that remain open downtown,” Schulick wrote. “Thank you for your ongoing commitment to downtown. I know we have the collective will to do the right thing.”

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.