Board of Control Approves Consultant for Strategic Plan

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A one-year contract approved Thursday by the city’s Board of Control will bring on Northeast Ohio urban planner Hunter Morrison to coordinate multiple plans and projects in the city.

Morrison is a senior fellow in urban studies at the Levin College of Cleveland State University. He previously served as director of the Cleveland City Planning Commission and was director of the Center for Urban and Regional Studies at Youngstown State University.

According to the professional services agreement, which City Council is expected to take up at its Aug. 28 meeting, Morrison would be paid $25,000 to assist the city with “matters pertaining to the planning and development of the city and its surrounding communities; urban design and capital improvement planning; project management and interagency coordination; and municipal operations improvement.” The agreement has a one-year renewal option.

Mayor Jamael Tito Brown asked Morrison to help bring the various downtown actors together to formulate a strategic plan to coordinate their upcoming efforts and initiatives and take full advantage of those opportunities, Morrison said.

“It’s a great move. It’s something the city definitely needs,” First Ward Councilman Julius Oliver said. It seems like all the other actors in the city – including organizations like YSU, Mercy Health and the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments – have plans and the only entity that lacks “a focused city plan” is the city itself, Oliver said.

The objective of the strategic plan is to ensure “We’re all singing off the same page,” Morrison said.

Those opportunities include the $26 million Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development, or Build, grant, of which Eastgate is the lead agency. Awarded last December by the U.S. Department of Transportation, the grant will be used to perform major upgrades to several downtown streets, including Fifth Avenue, and launch an autonomous shuttle that would service the greater downtown area, including YSU and Mercy Health’s St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital.

The strategic plan also is intended to incorporate initiatives such as the new federal Opportunity Zone program.

“A lot of good folks are doing good things but we need to be able to communicate that clearly and very concisely,” he added. He also noted that the Build grant is going to be executed in a very short timeframe.

The Build project is in the design phase now and a stakeholder meeting is planned for Sept. 26 to solicit public input, said Jim Kinnick, Eastgate’s executive director. The plan is to move to final design and sell a design-build contract next spring, with a projected completion date for the project in fall 2021.

Kinnick also applauded bringing Morrison on board. Morrison has “a vast background in planning” and his knowledge “would be a big asset to the city,” he said.

He would be able to strategically look at the city’s plan “as we move forward not just next year but years to come,” tying in the city’s Opportunity Zone properties and potential investment related to the zones and the Build grant.

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