Council Committee Meets as Promised Protest Fizzles

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Members of City Council will consider legislation Wednesday to hire a consultant for the upcoming rehabilitation of Fifth Avenue and adjacent streets. 

Council’s finance committee met virtually Monday evening as the city’s police department wound down preparations made for an anticipated second day of protests downtown. Protests have erupted across the nation following the death of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police a week ago.

Police officers received information from monitoring social media and from private calls indicating that a protest was being planned, said Capt. Rod Foley. 

“We thought there was some credible information today there was potential for another rally today at 4 p.m.,” he said. Several of the individuals whom officers spoke with said they might come to Youngstown or to another rally that was taking place in Warren.  

Two demonstrations Sunday drew hundreds downtown. The protests went unmentioned during the city’s finance committee meeting.   

Among the items on the agenda was an ordinance that authorizes the city’s Board of Control to enter into a professional services agreement for construction, inspection, design and administration services for the projected $30 million renovation of Fifth Avenue and several adjacent downtown streets. 

The project is funded in part by a $10.85 million U.S. Department of Transportation grant awarded in 2018. The money is from the department’s Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development, or Build, grant program.

The legislation authorizes spending up to $2.6 million for the consulting services. 

Following Council’s approval of the ordinance, the Board of Control is expected to award a contract worth $627,374 to Westerville-based engineering firm EDG Inc., said Charles Shasho, the deputy director of public works. 

The contract will cover the Fifth Avenue portion of the work, which is expected to get underway this summer. 

Parella-Pannunzio Inc was awarded a $6.9 million contract about a month ago for the Fifth Avenue work, which is expected to get underway this month. The project will include a road update along with other safety and aesthetic upgrades.

During the meeting, council members also approved taking action on authorizing the Board of Control to advertise for bids to enter into a contract for construction of the City Center to Mill Creek Metro Park Connector project. The cost of the project will not exceed $770,000, according to the proposed ordinance. 

The council meeting took place even as city police wound down their presence on West Commerce Street by the 16 Wick Building, which was believed to be the site for Monday’s protest.

About a dozen police officers and six vehicles, including a K-9 unit, were stationed around 3 p.m. at the West Commerce site. Law enforcement personnel also were stationed at the Nathaniel R. Jones Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse, and officers drove around the downtown. By shortly after 4:30 p.m., the contingent had dwindled to six and all but two of the vehicles were gone.  

In response to the possible protest, Mayor Jamael Tito Brown dismissed all city employees working inside City Hall at 2 p.m. He later declared a civil emergency and, for the second day in a row, imposed a curfew that ran from 7 p.m. yesterday to 5 a.m.  

“We assumed it was going to be something comparable” to Sunday’s event, Foley said. He speculated that the protestors might have been discouraged from coming to Youngstown when they learned that city police were aware of the rally and opted to go to the scheduled rally in Warren. 

Although he did not go into specifics, Foley said the police presence downtown was “sizable enough to deal with anything” officers might encounter.

“The last thing we want to do is get hands on with our community,” he said. 

The curfew cut short the work day for Herbert Shelton, proprietor of MBR Apparel in 20 Federal Place. Normally open until 9 p.m., he closed at 3:30.  

Shelton said he bought the Two Girls Clothing store March 8 only for the coronavirus to shut down the store March 17. He only restarted operations a few days ago and now the protests are forcing him to close. At the same time, he still has to pay the store’s bills, even with little to no income from sales.   

“Don’t get me wrong. Youngstown is providing opportunities for people,” he said. “All this stuff going on is hurting us. It’s hurting us bad.” 

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.