Journal Opinion: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – In some ways, future prospects in downtown Youngstown have never seemed brighter. Unfortunately, the proposed renovation and sale of 20 Federal Place is a case study of how not to manage a redevelopment project.

We’re encouraged that the city – in collaboration with Steadfast City Economic & Community Partners – is moving forward on redeveloping the property. The estimated $74 million project received a $6.9 million state brownfield development grant in June.

The city-owned building costs about $1.1 million to operate annually but collects only about $800,000 in rent, according to city officials. No business owner would think that’s sustainable long term.

Desmone, a Pittsburgh architectural firm the city is working with, helped to secure the brownfield grant and has identified about $26 million in private capital from a potential investor. This is in addition to funds being sought through federal grants and historic tax credit programs.

These encouraging developments and exciting plans are all good. But the execution has been problematic at best, demonstrating bad judgment on the part of city officials.  

On Aug. 15 – the last day it could under a state-extended deadline – the city entered into a master lease agreement with 20 Federal Place LLC, which was created to apply for and accept the various tax credits. Missing that deadline would have imperiled the project.

The administration of Mayor Jamael Tito Brown balked at a master lease proposal that had been submitted in early July because it didn’t offer adequate protection of city assets. Fair enough. But given the magnitude of the project, addressing those concerns and getting an acceptable agreement in place should not have waited until the 11th hour. 

Additionally, many of the building’s tenants were notified in early July that they had just 30 days to exit 20 Federal. The evictions were necessary to accommodate the start of environmental work funded by the brownfield grant, which the city must spend by June 30, 2023. City officials say they resisted formally notifying and evicting tenants until the grant was awarded.

Tenants subsequently learned that Steadfast City representatives would meet with them to help with transitioning. Many of the evictions were extended until Sept. 9 – better, but still too little time. Worse, the city administration appears disinclined to provide financial help for the businesses it displaced, an ugly turn of events.

The city’s caution left tenants with limited time and few options to prepare for a move and to find an affordable space, especially those that wanted to remain downtown. This fiasco, compounded by the lack of any financial help for tenants, directly contradicts efforts to promote downtown Youngstown as a business-friendly environment. 

The 20 Federal Place project can’t afford any more stumbles. City Hall, get your act together.