Commentary: If You Build It …

By Edward P. Noga

Baseball season is in full swing (no bunt). The Guardians and Pirates have already welcomed their opening day crowds.

I also know that a fellow Business Journal columnist is happy that another baseball season is underway as he is a huge baseball fan. Hint: Why do you think there are so many wonderful baseball pictures at the Butler Institute of American Art?

I was in my fourth year as pastor of St. Patrick Church in Youngstown when Kevin Costner came into theaters with “Field of Dreams.” This 1989 film is one of many that warms the heart each spring. Baseball movie classics always remind me of the occasions when I went to see the Indians with my dad.

As we entered Municipal Stadium, he usually remarked, “Maybe we’ll catch one today!”

Dad has been gone almost 20 years but I will never forget going to a game with Mom after he died and having a foul ball come very close. A young boy snagged it and that brought a smile to my face.

“Field of Dreams” made its way into baseball fans’ hearts with the phrase, “If you build it, they will come.”

My memory of this phrase was highlighted recently with three announcements. The first came at the end of March when the Youngstown City School District dedicated its new baseball field. Comment was made that the field is probably the first built in almost 100 years in the city.

It complements the East High School campus and will be the site of games and events in warmer weather. The fresh look of a new field is an obvious encouragement for young people interested in baseball.                                                                                                    

“If you build it, they will come.”

Interestingly enough, the same day that I heard the announcement about the new field, at a strip plaza (mostly empty), people were cutting the ribbon to a new restaurant. Savanna Joe’s has long been the dream of the owner. The chef/owner has been in the food and catering business over 30 years.

 “Food, in the end, in our own tradition, is something holy … It’s about sharing,” he says on the restaurant website. “Can’t wait” to serve patrons some good Southern soul food!

Even more interesting is that the new restaurant joins four other spaces that have brought new life to a previously closed and shuttered and tattered part of Glenwood Avenue in the Fosterville neighborhood.

Fresh groceries fill the shelves at Glenwood Fresh Market. Urgent care and primary medical care sit in another space. Outreach help and counseling fills the remaining spots provided by Inspiring Minds Youngstown and Protestant Family Services.

 How encouraging to see a nearly empty strip plaza filled!

So often it seems that such sites have many “for rent” and “for lease” signs posted. I can appreciate the business model that knows such vacancies are part of the environment. But it sure is inviting when all storefronts are open and the parking lot is full.

Across the street from the Glenwood plaza building is a very popular and recently opened spot to drink coffee and eat breakfast.

The executive director of the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp., Ian Beniston, proudly looks at the area and hints at more development to come.

“If you build it, they will come!”

The day after I heard of and experienced the new baseball field and new restaurant openings, a great progress report about the city of Warren and Warren Harding’s $36 million student wellness and recreation center, in the heart of that city, hit the news.

What was most encouraging were the comments made about community engagement all along the way and the creative financial plan to not only build but also to maintain the complex.

Early planning enabled the school district to benefit from grants of $15 million. The remainder of the funding has been in the planning stages long before the first shovel was put into the ground so that the taxpayers of Warren will not have additional costs.

The update announcement included phrases like “game-changer,” “flexible space,” “continued community engagement and outreach to the larger community for the social, health and wellness [needs] of all folks in the area.” This massive project brings new meaning to the word transformational.                                                                                           

“If you build it, they will come!”

Our region has been blessed to see many initiatives popping up, such as efforts in Columbiana, Salem, East Liverpool and Ashtabula. It’s nice to be able to point to the energy and enthusiasm in so many communities we call home.

“Field of Dreams” is a movie first and foremost about dreams. Dreamers are repurposing, re-creating, remodeling, restructuring and restoring the history and diversity of who we are. They deserve our input and interest and support.

Happily, we are not living in a movie but writing a real story about real people who are genuinely committed to bringing us together.

“If you build it, they will come!”