Realty Tower Explosion Hobbles Downtown

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The explosion that mangled the Realty Tower dealt another blow to downtown Youngstown businesses already damaged by road construction, the Covid pandemic and its aftermath.

But the business owners are resilient and credit customer and community support for their continued operations.

Meanwhile, city officials have given the building owners until the close of business today to present a stabilization plan for the structure. As of this posting, no such plan has been presented.

Downtown restaurants may have suffered the most, navigating one challenge after another since the pandemic started in 2020. At the pandemic’s height, the state closed public gathering places and forced workers to stay home. Many of those workers have never returned to downtown.

“Honestly, with what we have endured from 2020 forward, it’s really a miracle that any of us are still here in business,” Anne Sabella, co-owner of Avalon Downtown, 17 W. Federal St., says. She attributes that survival not to any action on the city’s part but to “the wonderful people in the community that have supported all of us down here.”

The May 28 explosion at the Realty Tower killed one person, Akil Drake, 27, an employee of the Chase Bank branch on the first floor. It injured several others and left the residents of the tower’s 23 apartments without homes.

The adjacent International Towers apartment building was evacuated the week of June 10 after a structural engineer determined Realty was in imminent danger of collapsing. The engineer recommended buildings within a 210-foot radius be evacuated. That includes the Stambaugh Building – renovated about a decade ago to become a hotel and destination restaurant – which has remained closed since the explosion at the direction of the city fire chief. 

A bird’s eye view of the Realty Tower site shows the devastation wrought by a May 28 explosion. Structural engineers declared imminent collapse danger.

The explosion happened after workers from GreenHeart Companies LLC, who were contracted by the city for $140,000, were relocating utility lines, including gas lines from the basement and vault of the Realty Tower, and cut a gas line. The line was abandoned but pressurized. About six minutes later, the explosion ripped through the building.

The contract was awarded without a bidding process as the city called it an emergency. The city, however, didn’t initially acknowledge that work it directed was happening in the basement at the time of the explosion. The Business Journal has requested copies of the plans given to the company to guide the work but hadn’t received them by press time.

YO Properties, the owner of Realty Tower, issued a statement shortly after the explosion: “Everyone at YO Properties 47 LLC, the owner of the Realty Building, is shocked and deeply saddened by the loss of life and injuries resulting from the explosion that occurred. Heartfelt sympathy and condolences are extended to the family of the young man who lost his life. YO Properties 47 LLC, in cooperation with the relevant governmental agencies, is investigating as to how and why this explosion happened. Appropriately, pending this investigation, YO Properties 47 LLC will not be making any further public statements.”

The mother and sister of Drake, the man who died in the blast, filed a wrongful death lawsuit on June 8. The suit lists as defendants YO Properties, GreenHeart, LY Property Management LLC (which managed the building), East Ohio Gas Co., Enbridge Elephant Holdings, Enbridge Alternatives Fuel LLC, Enbridge Pipelines Inc., Enbridge Genoa U.S. Holdings LLC, Enbridge Inc., Enbridge Gas Distribution LLC, Dominion Energy Questar Corporation and Dominion Energy Inc.

It’s likely the first of many suits that will be filed related to the ordeal.


On the heels of the pandemic came a series of downtown street closings for reconstruction, the result of the Smart2 – Strategic & Sustainable, Medical & Manufacturing, Academic & Arts, Residential & Recreational, Technology & Training – project. Work started in 2020 and continues. 

Sabella estimates business is off anywhere from 30% to 40%, which she attributes not only to people being concerned about coming downtown because of the Realty Tower explosion but also to the ongoing road work and the redesign itself, which she says doesn’t meet the needs of downtown. Parking spaces have been removed, a median has been installed in the road, and large delivery trucks as well as emergency vehicles have difficulty navigating.

“The design of this is dysfunctional to meet the needs of the businesses down here, as well as the patrons that come down here,” she says. “We’ve suffered for years with these streets, and now when they’re starting to get open you’re seeing that they don’t meet your needs.”

The closing of the city-owned 20 Federal Place building to conduct environmental remediation work to position the property for redevelopment further reduced the downtown workforce.

Central Square is mostly closed off, and the restaurants can no longer rely on traffic provided by the hotel’s patrons or tenants of Realty Tower and International Towers.

Owners of downtown businesses are awaiting details of the city’s plan to assist them that Mayor Jamael Tito Brown said was in the works.

“We truly sympathize with the business owners downtown because they’ve stuck with us,” Brown said June 6. In addition to exploring ways to provide financial or marketing assistance to the businesses, he urges individuals and companies to do their part by patronizing the downtown restaurants.

Remaining Hopeful

Bistro 1907 restaurant, located in the Stambaugh Building, remains shuttered. After opening strong in 2018, it has yet to achieve the same level of success with the compounding blows of the pandemic and road projects.

“We are hopeful, and we want to reopen, but right now, there’s just so much uncertainty,” laments Mark Canzonetta, Bistro 1907’s owner. “If we’re down over all summer again, then how long is it going to take us to rebuild our business all over again? How many times can we start from scratch?”

Canzonetta, a harsh critic of how city officials have handled the Smart2 project with regard to downtown business owners, is no more satisfied with their recent performance but says his main concern now is his restaurant’s 70 employees, who have to survive on unemployment during “an already unmanageable economic time.” 

Unlike during the pandemic, the employees’ state benefits aren’t being supplemented by federal payments.

“The restaurants are a big deal in downtown and [city officials] haven’t even shown us any respect,” he remarks.

And he’s concerned about the ongoing construction’s effect on his and other downtown restaurants’ business.

“The biggest problem is trying to get those people to come back when their traffic patterns have already changed,” he says. “The perception is you can’t park downtown, and you have detours everywhere downtown, and our city administration just does not do a very good job of getting the word out that Youngstown is alive and well.”

At a June 11 news conference about the Realty Tower, 1st Ward Councilman Julius Oliver made a plea on downtown businesses’ behalf.

“Please keep in mind that downtown is still here,” he said. “We’re still open. We’re still open for business so please remember to pray for our residents and support our businesses as well.”

Besides Bistro 1907, other businesses in the Stambaugh Building, also remain closed including the DoubleTree by Hilton Youngstown Downtown.

“Right now, we are closed day-by-day,” Kimberly Patrone, sales manager, reports. “As soon as we hear anything from city officials that we can reopen, we will reopen with full force.”

The Stambaugh Building itself suffered minimal damage – just a few shattered windows, Patrone said, and no one there was seriously hurt. 

Scrambling to Help

DoubleTree by Hilton staff hurried to help patrons find lodging elsewhere. And with Patrone’s daughter’s graduation party planned there that Friday, as well as two weddings that weekend, the event staff began scrambling. The Sunday wedding couple decided to find another location, but Patrone says the staff, working with hospitality partners in the community, relocated the other two events. 

Patrone called the support from others “truly amazing,” as there was no hesitation and events were changed quickly.

“The overwhelming support, people reaching out to make sure we were okay and offering any help or assistance, has just been tremendous,” Patrone says.

Others’ Perspectives

Other businesses, though, continue to struggle. From his business on the ground floor of the Huntington Bank Building, Jack Colucci can see what remains of the Realty Tower and the Chase Bank’s branch across Central Square. Colucci, who has operated Mahoning Snacks, 24 Market St., for the last 17 years, estimated his business is down between 30% and 40% since the explosion.

“I’ve got no traffic in here,” he says. With the Central Square intersection blocked off because of the danger of the Realty Tower collapsing, people can no longer drive up and walk in to pick up items or play lottery numbers. He’s also lost business from people who stayed at the hotel as well as its employees.

The explosion has left the offices of two downtown banks closed too. Chase Bank’s downtown branch, which moved its downtown Youngstown office to the first floor of Realty Tower in 2021, was obliterated by the blast.

Huntington’s downtown branch, located in the Stambaugh Building, also is among the businesses shuttered. 

Chase continues “to focus on our employees and all who have been affected by this tragedy,” according to Stephanie Gostomski, vice president, regional communications, for JPMorgan Chase, the bank’s parent company.

A week after the explosion, Chase parked a mobile banking truck in the Covelli Centre lot, and also placed an ATM there, to provide services for customers of the downtown branch.

“This is our near-term plan to continue serving Youngstown, as we assess a long-term solution,” Gostomski says. “Our team will continue to support customers with general questions and assist with mobile services and activities that can be made through the ATM pod that is currently on site.”

Huntington National Bank is working toward a July 22 opening of its new downtown Youngstown branch, a bank spokeswoman says. The 3,044-square-foot space in the former Mahoning Bank Building – where the bank and its predecessors had operated for decades – remains under construction.

In addition to having an active ATM inside the Mahoning Building, the bank is encouraging customers to visit its branches at 3939 Market St. and in Campbell on McCartney Road, which are eight minutes or less away, the spokesperson says.

And progress continues on another downtown building not far from Realty.

Apollo Events Center

Tim Huber is the owner of the Apollo Building and he’s completely renovated the 124-year-old building over the past year.

About three months ago, Huber moved into the apartment on the top floor of the four-story brick building at 117 S. Champion St. But before that, he lived on the 12th floor of Realty Tower.

“My heart goes out to everything that has happened there,” Huber says.

As part of the renovation of the Apollo Building, he has replaced all gas line plumbing, as well as all electrical systems and wiring, and much of the HVAC system.

“We ran all brand-new gas lines into the building,” Huber says. 

The structure’s basement extends outward below the sidewalk in front of the entrance.  To replace the sidewalk, the old one had to be cut away with concrete saws.

The gas lines were directly below it, but Huber’s construction crew kept a worker under the sidewalk to make sure the gas line wasn’t touched.

“We knew,” Huber says. “All pipes were identified by our plumbing team, so we had no issues here.”

Despite the explosion and other problems, Huber remains “very optimistic” on the future of downtown.

“I hate to hear of the setbacks,” he says. “And there are people saying they don’t want to come downtown. But we are in the midst of putting together something special for the city.”

The renovation work on the Apollo Building is nearing completion; all that remains to be done is the ground floor. “We are in the final stretch,” Huber says.

BSHM Architects moved into the second floor about a month ago. Steelite International is renting the third floor as living space for visiting executives and is currently furnishing it as an apartment.

The ground floor will become the Apollo Events Center, which can be rented for parties and receptions. The center will have a full liquor license and should be ready by August, Huber says.

An electric gate will be installed across the entrance to the adjacent parking lot that can be closed for outdoor parties, or indoor-outdoor wedding receptions. The Events Center will have seating for 120, and the outdoor patio can seat another 120.

Huber and Josh Santangelo, head chef and owner of Prima Cucina Italiana restaurant, downtown, also operate Prima Events, which will provide catered food for the Apollo Events Center. Guests can also choose to hire outside catering services.  Prima Events Center will have a warming kitchen on site to keep food ready for service.

Huber is an investor in Prima Cucina Italiana, 103 W. Federal St., downtown. That restaurant, he says, will soon be relocated to 4500 Mahoning Ave. in Austintown, where it will retain its full menu. The current location will then reborn as Bar Prima, which will have a trimmed down menu and be open for lunch and dinner. 

Bar Prima will provide quicker service, Huber says, which is a must for the downtown lunch trade and those who are attending a concert in the evening.

Santangelo is also in the process of moving his Republic Pizza and bar from Lincoln Avenue on the Youngstown State University Campus to the Erie Terminal Building on Commerce Street, downtown. 

Realty Tower Background

YO Properties LLC purchased Realty Tower on June 1, 2018, for $2 million from Management Parking LLC, records show.

Management Parking LLC, an affiliate of developer Dominic J. Marchionda’s NYO Property Group, sold the building to Yo Properties. In 1989, it was purchased for $750,000 by Tri State Renaissance of Pittsburgh. In December 2000, it was sold for $540,000 to USA Parking Inc. of Cleveland and later transferred to Management Parking LLC.

According to mortgage instruments filed with the Mahoning County Recorder’s office, YO Properties 47 LLC secured a $1.6 million loan from First National Bank of Pennsylvania on June 1, 2018, related to the purchase of Realty Tower. The assignor of YO Properties 47 is Angelilli Property Group LLC, described as its sole member, and signed by Brian S. Angelilli, listed as the entity’s sole member and manager.

A subsequent instrument filed on Oct. 6, 2021, shows that YO Properties 47, which now listed Angelilli as “manager,” secured a second mortgage of $2,632,000 through Orix Real Estate Capital LLC, which does business as Lument Capital.

Lument Capital, based in Dallas, Texas, is listed as the taxpayer address for property tax bills generated from Realty Tower, according to records from the Mahoning County Auditor.

According to its website, Lument’s loan servicing department “consists of thousands of loans with a total unpaid balance of more than $50 billion, serviced for Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, FHA/HUD, and our own balance sheet.”

Also on Oct. 6, Orix Capital assigned the mortgage to the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp., commonly known as Freddie Mac. On Oct. 29, the First National Bank mortgage was satisfied, records show.

Records show that on March 29, 2022, Federal Home Loan assigned the mortgage to U.S. National Bank Association.

The Realty Tower was built in 1924 to serve as the headquarters for what was the Realty Guarantee and Trust Co. 

Pictured at top: The May 28 Realty Tower explosion crumpled the structure and disrupted downtown businesses.