Green Youngstown Gets OK for Downtown Smoking Shelter

Green Youngstown Gets OK for Downtown Smoking Shelter

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Dominique Jones stood outside 20 Federal Place at the edge of the main entrance’s canopy Tuesday morning.

She smoked a cigarette, as she usually does when she goes on break from VXI Global Solutions, her employer for the past four years, which is housed in the building.

In about a month, Jones and other downtown smokers should have a new location to light up that ideally will take them away from 20 Federal’s three entrances – a designated shelter in the building’s city-owned parking lot on West Commerce Street, across from the building’s rear entrance.

The city’s design review committee approved a request by Jennifer Jones, Green Youngstown program coordinator, to install the smoking shelter at the site, as well as an additional one if there is enough demand.

A bus shelter formerly used by the Western Reserve Transit Authority will be used for the downtown smoking shelter. The shelter, which Jones said is in good shape, was discarded by WRTA when it upgraded its shelters.

Measuring at nine feet six inches long, five feet eight inches wide and seven feet six inches high, the shelter will be placed in an empty space adjacent to the handicap parking spaces in the lot at West Commerce and North Phelps streets.

The shelter is meant to address several issues, Green Youngstown’s Jones said. One is the number of people – who cluster around the building’s entrances to smoke, despite a city ordinance that requires them to be 20 feet from the entrance. Individuals entering and exiting the building who aren’t smokers complain about having to go through the cigarette smoke.

Then there’s the cigarette butts that litter the entryways, despite the presence of newly installed receptacles placed along West Federal Street by Downtown Youngstown Partnership and disposal containers near the building.

“Cigarette butts are the most littered item in the world, and we have a really hard time cleaning up cigarette butts in the downtown area,” Jones said. “Every time I come into 20 Federal Place there are cigarette butts all around.”   

VXI is “heavily supportive” of the shelter and plans to support its use internally, she said. In addition to the covered shelter, which has a bench on which smokers can sit and will provide protection from the elements, there is a table nearby which they can use as well.  

“This is hugely needed,” Charles Shasho, the city’s deputy director of public works and a member of the design review committee, said.

Jones said she plans to install the shelter within the next couple of weeks, and assess over the next three months whether an additional one is needed.

To VXI’s Jones, the downtown smoking shelter sounds like a “smart idea,” though some might complain because they have to go across the street. “As long as I get to smoke my cigarette in peace, I don’t care,” she said.

Other smokers gathered outside the building agreed that the shelter is a good idea.

“I don’t like to bother people who don’t smoke,” said Jennifer Sharpe of Canfield. Sharpe started at VXI last week. “That’s awesome for people who don’t smoke so that we don’t bother them with second-hand smoke.”

Pictured: Jennifer Sharpe and Dennis Zitello Jr. are employees at VXI Global Solutions.

News of the smoking shelter was welcomed by other workers in the building, including Pamela Smeltzer and Pamela Stephens, both associate agents with Ruddy Insurance Group.

Ruddy’s office is on the ground floor at 20 Federal’s main entrance. Smeltzer and Stephens can see the smokers outside the office’s windows all day, as well as hear the music they’re playing and, occasionally, dancing.

“I’m a smoker myself but I think it would be a great idea if we were all out back away from everybody,” Smeltzer, of Struthers, said. She also complained that smokers use the planter outside to throw cigarette butts in rather than the designated receptacles – if they don’t just throw them on the ground.

The smokers outside also lean on the windows, leaving handprints. “Having that out back will help cut down on all of this,” she said.

Getting the smokers away from the front of their office will be “much better for business,” Stephens, who lives in McDonald, agreed. She wondered whether the presence of the cluster of smokers might unnerve visitors.

“I think it would care me because I never used to come to downtown Youngstown,” she said. The city has made great changes but “this can give it a bad name,” she said.

Also, guards and police officers have to waste time telling smokers to move away from the building entrances when there are other things they could be doing, she said. 

In addition to installing the downtown smoking shelter, Green Youngstown’s Jones said her office is purchasing 25 more cigarette butt receptacles from the same company that provided those installed by the Downtown Youngstown Partnership.

Those receptacles will be placed on Federal, Phelps and Commerce, including near the shelter, and Youngstown CityScape will empty them along with the DYP containers, she reported.   

Because of the lack of enforcement of the 20-foot radius, 20 Federal accounts for the bulk of downtown’s cigarette litter, said Phil Kidd, associate director of Youngstown CityScape. Details are still being worked out with the city regarding CityScape’s maintenance of the receptacles.

Kidd is a co-founder of DYP, which is a unit of CityScape. DYP purchased 12 cigarette receptacles it placed on West Federal. Although the containers haven’t eliminated cigarette waste, they are beneficial, he said.

“Anything we can do to try to mitigate this issue is extremely helpful because it is a significant issue,” he remarked.

Pictured at top: Dominique Jones smokes a cigarette outside of 20 Federal Place at the edge of the main entrance’s canopy. 

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.