Journal Opinion: A Needless Tragedy

YOUNGSTOWN – As this edition goes to press, the mutilated Realty Tower still stands. For how long and what the future holds for downtown Youngstown remains unknown.  

Ravaged by the May 28 explosion triggered by utility line relocation work, the blast eviscerated the Chase Bank branch there, killed a bank employee and displaced the tenants of the 23 apartments in the building. 

The resulting “collapse hazard zone” forced the relocation of the residents of 155 units in the adjacent International Towers. It also closed the renovated Stambaugh Building, a beacon of hope for downtown in recent years with the opening of the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel and the Bistro 1907 restaurant. 

A condition assessment June 10 of the Realty Tower by Barber & Hoffman, the structural engineering firm hired by the city, concluded the building is in “a dangerous condition” and in “imminent danger of collapse without modification to replace the function of the ground floor diaphragm.” 

Until the owner of the structure determines a course of action – repair or raze – much of downtown is in limbo. 

As proud as we are of how the Mahoning Valley community is responding to the needs of those displaced by the explosion, we must not lose sight of the need to hold accountable those responsible. 

This was no random happenstance of nature that could not have been predicted or prevented. 

We wonder why it took the city more than a week to engage a structural engineer to determine the threat level that the damaged building presents to public safety, a delay that could have had dire consequences – and may yet. 

Also troubling is that the city failed to acknowledge early on that it had contracted with the building owner – as part of the federally funded downtown road reconstruction project – for the utility line relocation work that preceded the explosion. 

As of this writing, the city has not responded to public records requests for some of the documents related to that contract. 

Whether the city acted hastily in awarding the no-bid contract, the company performing the line relocation work erred or was unqualified, or the utility company failed to depressurize a line that was supposed to be out of service, all of downtown is suffering