Journal Opinion: Hotel Deserves City Support

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – In the best of all possible worlds, restructuring the city of Youngstown’s loan to the operators of the DoubleTree by Hilton Downtown would not be necessary.

Downtown Youngstown has experienced ups and downs over the past 20 or so years. One of the unquestioned highlights was the $32 million redevelopment of the Stambaugh Building into the DoubleTree hospitality property and event venue that has become an anchor for the city. 

The central business district of the Mahoning Valley’s largest city had been without lodging for nearly two decades before the DoubleTree opened in 2018. Youngstown Stambaugh Hotel, the partnership that redeveloped the downtown landmark, assembled a financial stack in 2016 that included a $700,000 loan from the city of Youngstown.

After the first payment on that loan, due in November 2019, was missed, as were 22 more payments, the city agreed in November 2021 to add the nearly $122,000 owed at that point to a balloon payment at the end of the loan and to allow the partners to make their first payment this year.

The DoubleTree had been open barely two years when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, largely curtailing business and recreational travel and preventing large-scale events from taking place. By many measures, the hospitality industry has recovered but has a way to go to recoup the losses it suffered.

Certainly, two-plus years of downtown road construction hasn’t helped the hotel. When completed, the Smart2 Network project promises to be a big boost. 

City Council recently agreed to restructure the $845,128 that Youngstown Stambaugh Hotel now owes, which includes the original debt plus interest and penalties, to match the restructured terms of the $4.9 million loan from the Ohio Water Development Authority. Those terms for the state loan were conditional on the city adopting the similar terms.       

Third Ward Councilwoman Samantha Turner, who cast the sole vote against restructuring the hotel loan, pointed out that the city had permitted the hotel owners to miss multiple payments and that the city had been “more than understanding and generous in the matter,” She contended the administration should have negotiated better repayment terms.

“The state can stand to lose those dollars but our city cannot,” Turner said.

We share the concerns expressed by 1st Ward Councilman Julius Oliver about the signal that any vote against the hotel sends. He questions whether other hotel operators would be looking at Youngstown or whether businesses like Steelite International would be relocating to the city if it were not for the hotel.

“This hotel is currently providing jobs in the city, is currently providing tax to the city. It is an anchor that is attracting more business,” Oliver said. 

There is no question that the hotel provides many benefits to downtown and the region. It deserves council’s full support.