Journal Opinion: Reality Checks Downtown

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – At this writing, the future of several major downtown Youngstown properties remains uncertain. 

Most recently, an unidentified party submitted an $875,000 bid for the 14-floor Chase Tower – a bid that was substantially lower than the previous bid of $1.15 million that did not go through. (See page 64.)

Now another historic downtown bank property, the Mahoning National Bank Building, will be put up for sale later this year. The 16 Wick building, longtime home of the former Dollar Savings & Trust Co., has been empty for years. And the IBM Building at 250 Federal Plaza East, was vacated last month by Mercy Health; it has 62,400 square feet of available space.

There is no question that downtown has experienced a resurgence with the growth of entertainment venues, new restaurants and the advent of a residential market.

It’s unfortunate that reality checks now intrude.

Next door to the Chase Tower is the city-owned 20 Federal Place, the building that for generations housed the Strouss’ department store. The city says it’s working on an agreement with a potential buyer to redevelop the site.

Clouding that prospect is the fact that only one entity – Pittsburgh-based Desmone – remains in the running for 20 Federal following the withdrawal of Warren developer Mark Marvin.

Part of the appeal of downtown living is among those who want to live near where they work. That prospect is less likely as bank branches move into smaller spaces and businesses of all sizes adjust their office space needs in the wake of the pandemic.  

Then there’s the issue of gun violence that threatens Youngstown, as it does in cities across the country. More than 80 shootings have occurred in Youngstown so far this year, compared to 98 in all of 2020. The troubling headlines give pause to developers and potential employers.  

At the root of this gun violence are Second Amendment and socioeconomic issues that require comprehensive national, state and local solutions. With no resolutions in sight, people are scared. It’s a dilemma for the city and the downtown business community.

Even so, there are some problems that are solely within the city’s power to fix. Much of the city is simply depressing to see or navigate, such as litter-strewn and overgrown roadsides and intersections, and streets that are like a minefield to drive on, such as portions of East Commerce Street.

As admirable as are the efforts of organizations like Youngstown CityScape, they can only do so much. We appreciate that the city has competing needs for resources that have shrunk as lawmakers give tax breaks priority over funding local needs. But that doesn’t mean the city can’t put its best face forward.  

 Tough times are ahead for the downtown office market. The least the city can do is clean up its act.