Communities Celebrate $14.2M in Waterfront Grant Awards

WARREN, Ohio – Local officials say they will continue to seek funding for projects that didn’t receive awards in the final round of the Appalachian Community Grant Program.

Of the nearly $52 million in grants announced Thursday by Gov. Mike DeWine during media events here and in Geauga, Mahoning and Trumbull counties received $14.2 million for riverfront projects. In addition, DeWine and Ohio Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Anne Vogel announced $5 million for the removal of the Main Street dam in Warren.

The funds announced during the event at the Warren Community Amphitheatre were part of ACGP’s $200 million Wonderful Waterfronts Initiative. The $500 million put into ACGP was allocated from federal American Rescue Plan funds awarded to Ohio. Once the funds were allocated by the Ohio General Assembly, leaders in Ohio’s 32 Appalachian counties were asked to “find things in your community that would be absolutely transforming, things that you couldn’t do but for this money,” DeWine said.

“We wanted them to be transformative. We wanted them to be big. And that’s what we got,” he added. The $500 million Appalachian grant program received applications totaling more than $2 billion.

Last year, Mahoning, Trumbull, Columbiana and Ashtabula counties submitted a joint application with requests totaling nearly $155.8 million for riverfront, downtown infrastructure, workforce, parks and other categories.

“We put in for a larger amount, but the focus was clearly on waterfront  properties and opportunities to improve the economy. We’re excited about the money that we received for all the communities along the river,” said Jim Kinnick, executive director of Eastgate Regional Council of Governments. Eastgate was the lead applicant on the four counties’ application.  

The governor and other state officials announced $152 million for waterfront development in Appalachian counties Monday.

Of the $14.2 million announced Thursday, the city of Warren was awarded $4.3 million to support the Warren Waterway Trail, which will connect the city’s four riverfront parks, DeWine said. Funds also will be used to construct a new pedestrian bridge spanning the Mahoning River and connecting Perkins Park to Courthouse Square.

“We’re excited about this announcement, as it directly ties into our downtown expansion plans,” Warren Mayor Doug Franklin said.

“A vital downtown is crucial to the heritage, the economic health and the civic pride of our city,” he continued. “A healthy downtown is a symbol of community care and a high quality of life. factors that influence business location, decisions, tourism, as well as housing.”

The other Trumbull County communities that received funding were the city of Niles, which was awarded $3.5 million to construct a boat launch in the downtown area to strengthen its connection to the riverfront below the South Main Street Bridge into downtown, and Bristol Township, which was awarded $372,746 for improvements to the Western Reserve Greenway.

In Mahoning County, the city of Youngstown was awarded nearly $3.9 million for improvements at Spring Commons Park near downtown. Upgrades will include active play equipment for all ages and abilities, pavilions, shelters and a riverfront path and boulder terrace to provide a beach stop-off point for kayakers to visit the park, according to state materials provided after the event.

At the site’s northwest corner, an existing asphalt lot will be repurposed as an agriculture center to support community garden programming. The park will be connected to the West Avenue boat launch by a trail.  

Additional Mahoning County grants included $1.9 million for the city of Struthers to construct a community river launch, including a stairway with a kayak groove for a direct connection to river access, a pavilion and shelters and a natural play area. Additional features will be installed to allow for better capacity to host recreational visitors and interpretive signage. Lighting will be installed to provide safety and context to the site, and landscaping improvements are planned.

From left are Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown, Struthers Mayor Catherine Cercone Miller, Gov. Mike DeWine and Warren Mayor Doug Franklin.

The village of Lowellville received $936,960 to construct a canoe livery, pavilions and play facility at its riverfront park. A trail will be added that will connect it to the downtown. 

DeWine also noted that the state provided planning funds for communities as part of the ACGP process, so the communities now have plans they can use for projects that didn’t get funded though the program.

“My commitment to them is we’re going to continue to work with them to try to find money. We can’t guarantee that everything will get funded or get funded quickly,” he said.

“We’re going to look to see where there may be opportunities to use this plan to get other opportunities or other funding,” Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown said.

“We’ll keep pressing our resources at the state and federal level, to sort of fill in the gap in terms of the public investment that’s required to leverage the private investment,” Franklin said. “You never get all that you ask for, but we’re very grateful that we got the amount that we did.”

The $5 million allocated for removal of the Main Street dam was allocated from the $80 million Ohio received in the settlement of its lawsuit with Monsanto Co., DeWine said. During a discussion with Mahoning Valley leaders shortly after he became governor, one of the priorities identified was removal of the dams along the Mahoning River. Across Ohio, communities are rediscovering what their rivers could be in terms of quality of life. 

Two dams have already been removed, and six are moving through the process. Demolition of Warren’s Summit Street dam will get underway soon. Only removal of the Main Street dam hadn’t been funded until Thursday’s announcement.

Engineering work on the dam will begin right away now that the project has been funded, Vogel said.

“These dams were built at the beginning of the 20th century, so we got to do a lot of engineering to make sure that we’re doing this safely,” she pointed out.

Eight of the nine dams will be out of the river two years from now, Kinnick said.

“Once all nine downs are removed, this will free up 32 miles of the Mahoning River to use to fish, canoe, walk through, all kinds of things,” DeWine said.

“I know the recreation part is a big deal, but the governor is also focused on water quality in Ohio, and getting these dams down is huge for water quality. The sediment that builds up behind these dams is not good for the fish, it’s not good for the people,” Vogel added. “As soon as the dams come down, the river is going to be restored to its natural flow.”

State Rep. Al Cutrona of Canfield, R-58th, praised what he viewed as Mahoning Valley communities finally getting their fair share. “This is what it looks like when we all work together, and I look forward to continuing this path,” he said.  

Eastgate and its partners in their joint application – Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, Western Reserve Port Authority, Ashtabula Port Authority and Columbiana County Port Authority – issued a joint statement applauding the announcement of the nearly $52 million in funding.  

“Today’s announcement is a major milestone towards continuing to write the future economic narrative of our region and it shows the power of our community when we come together,” Guy Coviello, president and CEO of the Regional Chamber, said in the release. “Coming on the heels of the Lake to River announcement, this is the type of transformational effort that will help condition our economic development landscape for future economic growth.” 

Pictured at top: From left are Struthers Mayor Catherine Cercone Miller, Niles Mayor Steve Mientkiewicz, Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown, Gov. Mike DeWine, Warren Mayor Doug Franklin, Newton Falls Mayor Dave Hanson and Ohio EPA Administrator Anne Vogel.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.