YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The Lowellville High School jazz band performed holiday carols the morning of Dec. 10 as a crowd of about 60 guests waited to see the ribbon cut at Lowellville’s new riverfront park.
“We hope this will be a catalyst for development,” said Lowellville Mayor Jim Iudiciani at the ceremony.
The celebratory atmosphere that morning reflected not just enthusiasm for the tiny village’s project but also the potential for development along the Mahoning River.
No longer is the river the subject of local mockery and derided as unfit for activity, destroyed by decades of pollution by the steel industry. Instead, it is viewed as a corridor of opportunity, promising miles of recreational development – biking and walking trails, canoeing and horseback riding – that can help to revitalize the communities the river runs through.
Last year, Lowellville became the first community to remove the dam on its portion of the river, thereby opening that section to recreation and development. Already, village businesses are seeing more traffic at the shops, bars and restaurants. Creation of the canoe livery is only the first step in development of a larger park area, village leaders report.
And there’s more to come.
Last summer, the city of Struthers followed Lowellville’s lead and initiated a dam removal project. Communities downriver through the 13 cities, townships and villages through which the Mahoning flows are making plans to take down the old dams, which have outlived their industrial function.
Last summer, representatives of MS Consultants in Youngstown and NBBJ, a Columbus architectural firm, presented ideas for projects before a meeting of the Mahoning River Corridor Mayors Association. The association, which for years has advocated for riverfront development, has partnered with Eastgate Regional Council of Governments to achieve its goals.
Concepts presented, based on community input, include a bridge to connect the Warren peninsula to Courthouse Square, tying into the Raymond John Wean Foundation Riverfront Park in downtown Youngstown and creating a nature center and wetland exploration area in Niles.
This isn’t the kind of economic development that brings attention because it adds thousands of high-paying jobs on its own. But it can be a game changer nonetheless. One factor that companies take into consideration when looking to expand or locate operations is quality of life, as in amenities to attract and retain high-value employees.
Moreover, the people who live and work here deserve to enjoy and capitalize on these assets, whether they are entrepreneurs looking to explore new markets the riverfront developments present or Mahoning Valley residents taking advantage of the new opportunities for recreation.
We all should embrace and support the opportunities the Mahoning River presents.
Let the revitalization flow.