City to Consider $200K Grant Program for Downtown Businesses

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – City Council next week will consider establishing a $200,000 economic rapid response grant program to assist downtown businesses affected by the Realty Tower explosion.

The ordinance, which council members will take up during a special meeting June 20, would authorize the Board of Control to execute an agreement with the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber Foundation to act as the fiscal agent for the program.   

The one-time program, which would target tourism and hospitality businesses in the city’s downtown’s core, would provide grants of up to $10,000 to “provide short-term relief assistance to businesses experiencing financial hardship most immediately impacted by events at Realty Tower,” according to the ordinance. The city’s economic development department would help evaluate applicants.

The mixed-use building, which had a Chase Bank branch on its ground level and apartments on the upper floors, was ravaged by a natural gas explosion May 28. Safety concerns about the tower’s stability have left the nearby Stambaugh Building closed and recently led to the evacuation of International Towers.  

As city leaders engaged in conversations about what downtown residents displaced by the explosion needed, what downtown businesses needed also was discussed, Councilman Julius Oliver, 1st Ward, said Thursday. Downtown businesses already have had to cope with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and the ongoing downtown road construction project that has led to road closings and detours.

“So being hit with this disaster puts even more of a strain,” he said. “We want to be able to add some support.”

As the Mahoning Valley’s largest economic development and business advocacy organization, the Regional Chamber feels “a sense of responsibility to partner with the city to help companies impacted by circumstances beyond their control,” said Guy Coviello, the chamber’s president and CEO.

“Much like the United Way [of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley] has stepped up to help individuals, we’re stepping up to help the businesses. We will accept donations for businesses in need, and we will distribute 100% of the money collected,” he continued. “We will later determine additional resources we can provide specifically to chamber members in need.”

Once the initial funding is exhausted, applicants will be placed on a waiting list in the event additional funding becomes available, according to the city ordinance.

“We’re grateful for any assistance,” but “I don’t know if it’ll be enough,” said Mark Canzonetta, owner of Bistro 1907. His restaurant, along with the DoubleTree by Hilton Youngstown Downtown hotel, is located in the shuttered Stambaugh Building.

Canzonetta, who also owns Wahaka Taco in Howland Township, said Prima Cucina reduced days of operation to just Fridays and Saturdays. His stepdaughter had patronized The Federal downtown this week and reported hers was the only table with patrons.

Another downtown restaurateur described downtown as “a ghost town,” he added. He also expressed concern over possible efforts to preserve the tower. “Is there going to be an ongoing battle to see what the outcome of the tower is going to be?” he questioned. “Downtown business was hurting already.”  

He also expressed concerns over the long-term effects of the continued road closings and restricted access related to the Realty Tower on the restaurant/bar, travel and concert industries, as well as the “uptick in crime and murder” in the city. While that isn’t necessarily happening downtown, people outside the city often perceive that to be the case and won’t return “unless the city hires an absolute genius marketing company,” he cautioned.

The city is exploring “some type of marketing campaign for our downtown businesses so people know that downtown is still open for business,” Oliver said. Whether the one-time grant program might be expanded is an issue to be considered later.   

“What we want to do is just provide some type of relief from the hemorrhaging,” he said.

Coviello vowed that his focus and that of Mayor Jamael Tito Brown would be “long-term, continuing long after we recover from the explosion.”

Pictured at top: A sign for Bistro 1907 is seen on a window at the Stambaugh Building, which also houses the DoubleTree by Hilton Youngstown Downtown hotel.

Editor’s note: More coverage of the Realty Tower explosion can be viewed HERE.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.