Chamber Convenes Meeting on Redeveloping Niles

NILES, Ohio – Community branding initiatives, reuse of vacant properties and better capitalizing on Niles’ existing assets were among the topics addressed Friday morning at the Niles Wellness Center.

The Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber hosted the public input meeting as part of its economic development contract with Niles. The city, which is in fiscal emergency, contracted with the chamber in February for economic development services.

That contract includes getting input from the public and business community about how the city can move forward.

“It really is a fact-finding process at this point,” said Sarah Boyarko, vice president of economic development. The chamber will work in partnership with the city administration and The Avenue & Main, a grassroots group formed in December 2010, to develop an implementation strategy for whatever plans are made.

The meeting was sparsely attended. Other than chamber representatives, city Service Director Ed Stredney and local media, just three individuals representing local companies and a woman making use of the wellness center attended.

Among the suggestions were bringing greater awareness to the city’s assets, such as the National McKinley Birthplace Memorial, and creating branding and signage to identify specific sections of the city. Some sections such as Russia Field are better known to longtime residents but aren’t as familiar to people who are new to the city.

“How much is it going to cost to make some nice signs and put them out in the neighborhoods? It’s a great, easy solution,” Stredney said.

Bob Summers, business manager for Alcon Mechanical Piping Inc., began working here about 2½ years ago. He noted many people aren’t aware of how to identify specific areas. In addition to making those sections easier to find, branding can help people begin to understand they belong to something.

“Right now, I’m not sure if they’re engaged,” he remarked.

Boyarko agreed that such a strategy could promote engagement and ownership of specific areas.

“You break it down into bite-size pieces and we may be able to discuss what we can do for specific areas,” Summers said. “What you want to do is make things seem achievable. When you look at a whole city, that can be overwhelming.”

Other underutilized assets in the city include Waddell Park and the wellness center. One suggestion that came up and already is being discussed is offering city resident membership rates for the wellness center to employees of businesses operating in the city.

Meanwhile, the city is making major investments in infrastructure, and plans are in the works to demolish the former Niles Daily Times building to create additional downtown parking, Stredney reported.

Among what he called his “crazy ideas” is establishing some kind of business incubator in the former St. Stephen Elementary School. He also would like to see a coffee shop and other amenities downtown.

“I remember what downtown Youngstown was like and you didn’t dare go downtown. Now it’s the place to go,” Stredney said. “I would love for downtown Niles to be like that.”

Those attending the meeting asked about the status of the former General Electric plant at North Main and East Federal streets. The Niles plant and adjacent property were among six Ohio GE sites up for auction this summer by Hilco Real Estate, which was marketing the properties for GE, but the site was withdrawn because of multiple inquiries from interested parties.

“There is potential for it to go out for auction again in the future,” Boyarko said. “However, we have forwarded a few opportunities directly to that brokerage firm and they are talking with those folks.”

“That’s a beautiful piece of property and a nice building,” said Lee Johnson, president of Melmor Associates Inc, another Niles business represented at the meeting.

“That’s a prime building for a business,” Stredney affirmed.

Topics such as public art projects and improvements along the city’s major corridors also were addressed during the meeting.

The chamber plans to distribute a survey to city businesses, Boyarko said. The survey also will be available to residents on the city’s web site.

Alcon’s Summers is optimistic about the area’s future, in part because of the ethane crackers that are being developed in the region.

“The next 20 to 25 years in northeastern Ohio are going to be unreal with the amount of businesses that are going to be coming here,” he remarked.

“I’m excited. I’m excited for what the future holds for Niles,” Stredney said.

Pictured: Sarah Boyarko of the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber and Bob Summers of Alcon Mechanical Piping Inc.

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