Ceremony Marks Start of Wick Ave. Transformation

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The long-awaited upgrade to the Wick Avenue corridor had its origins on a sunny day in 2008 much like yesterday, Sharon Letson mused at the ceremony where dirt was moved to launch the project.

As representatives of Wick Neighbors’ design review committee walked Wick, the executive director of Youngstown CityScape recalled, they noticed the mismatched utility polls, the worn curbs and the lack of any setback or greenspace along the corridor. They discussed transforming the corridor, re-imagined with attention to pedestrian and auto traffic, to lighting and to “the beautiful structures” along the avenue, including the Youngstown State University campus, Butler Institute of American Art, Arms Family Museum and St. John’s Episcopal Church.

“Basically, we talked about wanting what other cities have – a thought-out, attractive gateway and thoroughfare to show off our city’s best to our visitors and to welcome the community downtown,” Letson said. “Why should Youngstown settle for less?”

Letson, Mayor John A. McNally and YSU President Jim Tressel joined community leaders, partners and Wick Avenue stakeholders Thursday morning for turning the dirt to signal the start of the Wick Avenue Improvement Project. The ceremony took place on the front lawn of the main library of the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County’s Main Library at the northeastern corner of the intersection of Wick and Rayen avenues.

The project will run from McGuffey Avenue to Wood Street, with the most extensive work taking place between the Madison Avenue Expressway and Rayen Avenue.

Contractors are expected to begin work in a week on the project, which will cost just more than $4 million, said Charles Shasho, city deputy director for public works. In addition to road and curb reconstruction, it will involve replacing water and sanitary sewer lines, installing duct banks for FirstEnergy’s primary feeds and new lighting,

“This is one of the oldest streets in the city,” Stasho said. “It has a very aging infrastructure so we’re going to start basically from the bottom and work out way up.”

Added Tressel, “It’s going to be a spectacular thoroughfare that this city deserves. This is going to be special.” The project was the “first initiative” of one of his predecessors, David Sweet.

Sweet “wanted to see this happening along Wick Avenue to try to enhance the curb appeal of the university and the city,” said John Hyden, YSU director of facilities and support services. Last year, YSU trustees allocated $800,000 in unrestricted funds donated to the university toward the project.

“One of the big things that the university was looking at is safety enhancement for the pedestrians,” Hyden said. The project, he hopes, will resolve difficulties with traffic flow and address the aesthetic issues.

“When President Tressel came on board at Youngstown State University he identified this as a priority for the university,” Letson said. Without YSU’s $800,000 allocation to “kick start” the initiative, it probably wouldn’t have gotten underway for another two years, she added.

Letson has been the project’s “quarterback,” said Tressel, evoking his earlier time at YSU as head football coach. He assigned the role of tailback to McNally and the city.

“Sharon is very forceful when she needs to be – empathetic to what her players have to deal with but she wants results,” McNally affirmed.

Tressel allowed the yearlong effort will mean “some disruption” for the campus and downtown area.

The McNally administration issued an advisory yesterday afternoon that details how travel will be affected. Beginning Monday, Wick between Wood Street and Rayen Avenue will be closed to through traffic, although southbound local traffic will be maintained during this phase. Sidewalks on the eastern side of Wick will be closed to pedestrian traffic while the west sidewalks remain open.

“We love seeing construction occurring and good things happening,” Tressel remarked.

“It will be a disruption. I’ll take a lot of heat for it and that’s fine,” Hyden said. “In the end, we’re going to have such a fantastic project that those short-term pains will be quickly forgotten but it is going to be disruptive.

The second phase of the project, from Rayen Avenue to the freeway, will begin in early November, said Bill Lawson, executive director of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society. That will be about the time the Arms Museum has its annual “Memories of Christmas Past” program, which begins Nov. 20.

“We addressed those concerns. There will be local traffic so people can get in and out,” Lawson said. Also, during the holiday season the museum is busiest on weekends, when the work zone won’t be active, and it is closed from Jan. 9 to Feb. 1.

The library, which has an alternate access of Walnut Street, will maintain operations as much as possible. “So long as we have access to the building we will stay open and have programs,” Janet Loew, communications/public relations director for the library, said.

Pictured: Bill Lawson, Mahoning Valley Historical Society; YSU President Jim Tressel; Youngstown Mayor John McNally; Sharon Letson, executive director of Youngstown CityScape; Rev. Richard Murphy, president of Ursuline High School; Rev. Gayle Catinella of St. John’s Episcopal Church; Dr. Lou Zona, executive director of the Butler Institue of American Art; and Janet Loew, communications/public relations director of the Public Library of Youngstown & Mahoning County.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.