CityScape Honors Mills Family, Ohio One Corp.
The downtown community development corporation presented Ohio One, its president, Richard Mills, and the Mills family with the Sweet Grass Roots Award during the event.
Ohio One owns and manages City Centre One, the Ohio One Building, the Commerce Building, the IBM Building and the Rica Building. The company was founded 46 years ago by Mills’ father, who died in 1990.
“I have never cried before 200 people. This is a first,” Mills said as he accepted the award.
The landlord said his father’s love for downtown started in 1945, when he took the trolley car down Market Street to the downtown square to work at the Brass Rail restaurant, and he instilled that love in his family.
“Ohio One has worked for 46 years to take care of our tenants and try to improve downtown,” he said. “And I guess it’s been appreciated.”
During the program, several speakers alluded to the company and the Mills family’s commitment to downtown and the role they played in setting the stage for the resurgence downtown has seen in recent years.
“They’ve been the mainstay of downtown Youngstown for decades,” said Pete Asimakopoulos, president of Youngstown CityScape. “During the times when there was economic turmoil downtown, Ohio One and the Mills family were the one constant that we had.
“They were committed to the city, they were committed to their employees, and a lot of the success that we’re enjoying today is because of their commitment to downtown,” he continued.
In the early 1990s, downtown Youngstown “started to perk up” with the emergence of Phar-Mor Inc., then “got a little more desolate” with its departure, said Jim Dascenzo, a principal with HBK CPAs & Consultants, which had its headquarters downtown for several years. Since then, the Youngstown Business Incubator – on whose board Dascenzo serves as chairman – has grown and become an anchor.
“None of that could have happened without Ohio One Corp. and the Mills family and Rich Mills,” he said. “They were the one steadying force in downtown Youngstown that whole time. They were the one constant that kept everything together. Through the ups and downs, they were always there.”
CityScape’s relationship with Ohio One Corp. and Mills could be summed up as “a thousand little things,” said Sharon Letson, CityScape executive director.
Those include the canna flowers – taken from original growths donated by the elder Mills – which are planted through the downtown during each year’s Streetscape event, storage space for CityScape’s Gator utility vehicle and space and staff to sort the flowers for planting day.
Mills also was partly responsible for the space where he and his company were honored, the top floor of the DoubleTree by Hilton Youngstown Downtown, Letson said.
“It’s no secret that we have tried time and time again to coax Rich to accept an award, but the timing really never has been right until now,” she said.
This year, 10 years into presenting the Sweet Grass Roots award, CityScape is “able to celebrate in this magnificent space” because Mills was part of the group more than a decade ago that fought to save the Stambaugh Building, which houses the hotel.
Mills deflected praise to the other members of his team, including Bart Felger, Ohio One vice president and director of operations. “He’s our go-to guy who knows where all the pipes go, where all the wires go and where all the skeletons are,” he quipped.
Mills also praised his sister, Kathy. “She’s the best,” he said. “She’s the reason Ohio One is still in business today, truth be told.”
And Mills praised CityScape.
“I can’t remember or count the number of do-gooders or groups and organizations that wanted to come downtown and change things and make things for the better,” he said. “But CityScape is the one that is still around.”
In addition to recognizing CityScape’s board of directors, Asimakopoulos praised the organization’s staff, which “do all the heavy lifting’ and “do it on a shoestring budget,” he said.
He acknowledged the impending departure of CityScape associate director Phil Kidd, who is taking a job in Cleveland April 1, a move that is “clearly a loss” for CityScape and the Youngstown community.
“Thank you for defending Youngstown,” Asimakopoulos said, an allusion to the “Defend Youngstown” campaign that brought Kidd to local prominence.
Mayor Jamael Tito Brown, a CityScape board member, presented Mills with a proclamation and a key to the city “because you are a key to the city.”
Scott Schulick, vice-chairman of CityScape’s board of directors, closed the program with further praise for Ohio One and called for those in attendance to participate in a new CityScape initiative, Downtown Difference Makers.
Schulick urged those attending to commit $1,000 annually to the initiative, which would provide a funding base for the organization that would help sustain it beyond the grants it receives.
“It helps operations. It helps our planting. It helps moving us forward with our mission,” he said.
Former and current Ohio One Corp. tenants in attendance praised the company and its management.
Ohio One Corp. is the best custodian of downtown buildings, but beyond that the company and its employees are “custodians of the community,” said architect Ron Faniro, a CityScape board member. “They do so much for the community. They do it very quietly but effectively.”
His firm, Faniro Architects, had an office in the Ohio One Building for 18 years. All of Ohio One’s properties are outstanding, but he said, that one is set apart from the others.
“That’s a historic building and it’s in the shape that it was in the day it was opened,” he said.
When Youngstown State University discontinued its Students Motivated by the Arts program five years ago, Becky Keck recalled, “Rich told me, ‘You know what I have when you need it.’ ”
Ohio One provided her office space pro bono, with no expectation that she would later establish the Smarts Community Art School on the ground floor of the Ohio One building, opening there in June 2017.
Without Ohio One’s support, Smarts probably wouldn’t exist today, she acknowledged.
“He did it because he believed in our mission and he is who he is,” Keck said.
Pictured: The Mills family is honored: Rich Mills, president of Ohio One Corp., is joined by CityScape’s Pete Asimakopoulos and Sharon Letson, his sisters Kathy Mills and Jenny Phillips and brother-in-law Don Phillips.
Copyright 2023 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.