Commentary: Frustrated with Roadwork? Remember Wick Avenue

By Edward P. Noga

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Nearly 10 years ago, the planning was done, the machinery was in place and work began on the transformation of Wick Avenue from Wood Street to the service road just south of Ursuline High School and the Madison Avenue Expressway.

The artist renderings looked great, and the burying of utility lines added extra excitement to the project. Anticipation grew as this forward-looking and progressive project drew nearer and nearer to the starting date. The portion of Wick Avenue involved is a primary piece of our history, and over the years draws thousands to programs; worship services; art exhibits; lectures; community meetings; educational classes; medical assistance; and breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

What a gateway and welcoming drive into our city.

As I have mentioned before in this publication, while pastoring on the South Side of the city just a mile from downtown, I had many opportunities to ride my bike, jog or walk to and through the downtown/YSU area.

When the parked heavy equipment started up and began the initial phases of the project, it was amazing and unbelievable. Even though we knew the work would be a major undertaking, there was quite a bit of shock value as the work progressed. At one point, it was almost difficult to realize that there had been a street there.

The casual visitors to the area during that time were literally stopped in their tracks as they tried to figure out how to get from here to there. No turns, no crossovers, no parking, no dropping off sites. If you rode your bike, jogged or walked in the area, you encountered an obstacle course or dead end.

Today, as we traverse the grand street, one has a fading memory of just how difficult and frustrating it was to maneuver during the construction phase.

Well, here we are in 2023 dealing with the plans and progress of another street (actually streets) transformation. Much of the frustration is the same as the Wick Avenue experience, but much is different now, as the project’s streets wind their way around a major hotel, downtown banks and offices, government services, a community college, several restaurants and other gathering sites, a public arts auditorium and the very center (Central Square) of the city.

Gratefully, we have also seen in recent years the development of the river corridor and the long-vacant East End of downtown, which now is attracting gatherings of all shapes, sizes and purposes. Down the road, this added space will continue to define our center city and welcome visitors to many events and gatherings.

As to what is happening currently on the streets that surround Central Square, there has been a lot of discussion, frustration, questioning and complaining. It seems the timing, scheduling and information about the project has been underexplained and poorly announced.  

For sure, it’s not an easy project and it’s not going to be finished anytime soon. Recently, news that work in and around the square itself will be rebid, has added another level of consternation for many. Living downtown, I hear too often, “Well, what surprise will we see tomorrow?”

As we prepare for one of the biggest area fundraising and awareness promotions this coming Sunday – the Panerathon – we might consider first the need to be grateful that the planners, promoters and sponsors haven’t given in to frustration but have made adjustments last year and this year. Their flexibility and insight will pay off for the thousands of people who will be downtown for the event.

Beyond this Sunday, our patronage of all the businesses and services and entertainment venues on the “in progress” streets needs to be ramped up as a way of touting the progress and supporting those who have made commitments to downtown. Our patronage acknowledges the commitment of those whose address is one of the streets under construction.

This year’s CityScape theme was Under Construction and Growing. The large team that descends each year on the downtown/YSU area with energy, enthusiasm, garden tools, topsoil and plants of all kinds and sizes has had to work around quite a few obstacles. Their tenacity and cooperative spirit looked beyond the obstacles and kept their decades-long program as vibrant as ever.

As community leaders, contractors, business owners, service groups, patrons and volunteers work together, more dialogue – and an innovative spirit of cooperation – will be demanded so the progress and occasional setbacks can be put into the proper perspective. All of this and so much more will enable us to look down the road (Did I say that?) and truly remember Wick Avenue.

Pictured at top: Wick Avenue near Youngstown State University.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.