CityScape Details Plans for Former Briel’s Property

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Youngstown CityScape’s acquisition of the closed Briel’s Flowers and Greenhouse will provide the opportunity to cross-pollinate two city legacies, CityScape Executive Director Sharon Letson said.

During a news conference Tuesday, Letson and Scott Schulick, president of CityScape’s board of directors, outlined their organization’s plans for the property, which the organization purchased last month for $145,000. The 22-26 S. Belle Vista Ave. property is located just off Mahoning Avenue, one of the city’s major arteries and a gateway to downtown.

“This operation will just help us to be able to really reduce our costs in the long run,” Letson said. It also will assist CityScape in its efforts to help neighborhood groups with their beautification projects.

The plans Letson and Schulick detailed included carrying on the legacy of the flower shop and greenhouse, which operated for more than 96 years, in its new name.

“CityScape at Briel’s reflects two powerful legacies,” Letson told the gathering of CityScape staff and board members, community leaders and members of the Briel family. “The project bridges the past, present and future as we combine elements to create something brand new.”

CityScape at Briel’s will provide facilities for CityScape to grow its own plants and flowers for its annual Streetscape downtown beautification event and vacant properties throughout the city, as well as for retail sale, Letson said. Over the past 24 years, CityScape has used greenhouses all over the city and Mahoning County for its plants, she said.

In addition, the site will provide job-training opportunities for women residing at Community Corrections Association and offer space for local makers to sell their products.

“CityScape at Briel’s directly tackles our city’s history of disinvestment and resulting business and retail deserts. We believe the greenhouse initiative will help to revitalize this essential business corridor here on Mahoning Avenue as it provides job and life skill training and terrific retail possibilities,” Schulick said.

Schulick, who grew up on the West Side and often drives by Briel’s, recalled the neighborhood shop as a place to get a prom corsage or to pick up a last-minute Mother’s Day or birthday gift. In late 2019, he noticed its curtains were drawn and the normal holiday decorations absent in late 2019, then saw the “for sale” sign on the property.

Over the next few months, he prodded Letson to consider buying the property, and in July 2020 asked her to “just humor” him and go check it out. A decade earlier, CityScape had attempted to acquire a greenhouse.

“Sharon knows me well enough to know it’s worth it just to shut me up to do things like this,” he said.

She brought a group that included an architect to the property in the belief that “she was going to stop the whole idea in its tracks,” but the group got excited about the possibility instead. After much discussion, CityScape’s board elected to undertake the project.

“We are planting the seeds for so many ventures. Each day brings new ideas,” Schulick said.

George Briel, former owner of Briel’s Flowers.

Renovations to the retail space and greenhouse, which will include both structural and cosmetic work, will begin as soon as contracts are finalized, Letson said. The project timeline will depend on availability of materials. She could not provide an exact cost for the project but offered a “guesstimate” of $400,000, inclusive of the purchase price.

CityScape has made “significant progress” toward raising money to cover the purchase price as well as the renovation work, but will be inviting the community to participate in a fundraising campaign in the coming months, Schulick said.

Among those attending the press event was George Briel, former owner of the flower shop and greenhouse, who worked there 85 years. He recalled starting out in his father’s business by picking bugs and snails off chrysanthemums, and helping move soil and repair benches. He also painted urns and watered flowers for the nearby Calvary Cemetery, one of the shop’s major customers.

Briel said he was pleased to see the family name carry on in the property’s new incarnation.

“It makes me very satisfied,” he remarked. “I’m proud of the name.”

The purchase of the property also included an adjacent house, which has office space and has some items stored in it. “We’re open to ideas,” she said.

One option not being considered is relocating CityScape from its downtown headquarters in the McCrory Building, which is now owned by Oh Wow! The Roger & Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science & Technology.

“We’re stakeholders downtown. We believe in our downtown,” she asserted. “We believe that the core of our city and the health of our core city is important for our entire city.”

Pictured at top: Sharon Letson, executive director of Youngstown CityScape, inside the Briel’s greenhouse.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.