Councilman: Company Should Complete Realty Tower Evaluation

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Even though the Realty Tower owner plans to demolish it, the councilman who represents downtown said the company hired to evaluate the building should finish its work.

Councilman Julius Oliver, 1st Ward, was reacting to media reports that owners of the building wouldn’t allow anyone into the building and that the decision to demolish it is final.

He still believes the evaluation by Structural Systems Repair Group, a Cincinnati-based engineering firm that’s worked on damaged historic buildings, will provide important information.

“I think the city – the administration or myself and my colleagues – should be pushing to get that info from the engineering firm,” he said. “We should have it for our records. Plus, we paid for it.”

A May 28 gas explosion blew out the building’s first floor, killing a Chase Bank employee and injuring several others. It also displaced the residents of the building’s 23 apartments who haven’t been able to return to their homes.

The DoubleTree by Hilton Youngstown Downtown hotel and Bistro 1907, as well as other businesses in the Stambaugh Building across Federal Street from Realty, have been closed since the explosion.

After a structural engineering firm hired by the city earlier this month determined that Realty was in imminent danger of collapse without modification, the residents of International Towers, next to Realty, were evacuated, too. 

SSRG was scheduled to return to the city Thursday to continue an assessment of Realty, paid for by the city. Oliver said after media reports, Thursday’s visit was canceled.

In a letter to residents Tuesday, Live Youngstown Property Management LLC, which manages Realty Tower, and Yo Properties 47 LLC, which owns it, said the city and the National Transportation Safety Board had until recently been in control of building security. 

“We are now facilitating building security for the foreseeable future,” the letter said. “As such we will have security controlling access to the building and will not be granting entry to unauthorized personnel.”

It also says that after consultation with city officials and engineering firms, “we have regrettably determined that demolition is the safest long-term solution.”

In a letter Thursday to Mayor Jamael Tito Brown, Councilwoman Samantha Turner, 3rd Ward, urged that the base of Realty be stabilized.

“Stabilizing this structure is critical to the overall strength and safety of downtown,” Turner wrote. “The sustained delay has led to the displacement of residents, financial instability for businesses, and the potential hazard to public safety.”

Her letter also says securing the building base is important to protect community heritage, ensure public safety and boost community morale, as well as for economic considerations.

“I understand that securing the base of a historical building involves careful planning, adherence to standards and financial resources,” Turner wrote. “However, the benefits of such an endeavor far outweigh the costs.”

She urged the Brown administration to assess the situation and implement measures to ensure the stability of the building’s base. 

That will begin the process to assist the tenants of Realty Tower in retrieving essential belongings, return residents to International Towers and reopen the DoubleTree, Bistro 1907 and Huntington Bank, Turner wrote in the letter.

“Your attention to this matter is not only a legal and civic responsibility but also an act of empathy towards residents, business owners and a community that deeply values the growth and development of our city,” her letter states. “By safeguarding the Realty Tower, we are preserving a structure and honoring the legacy and stories of those who came before us.”

Oliver said he’s concerned about International Towers residents being able to return to their homes, the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel reopening, downtown being safe and people returning to patronize downtown businesses.

He also wants to ensure that if the building is demolished, the company hired to do the work is qualified.

Since the city announced earlier this month that the company planned to demolish Realty, a group of downtown supporters and stakeholders have launched a campaign to save it.

Scott Schulick, president of the Youngstown CityScape board of directors, is among those downtown advocates and isn’t happy that more hasn’t been done to preserve the building. He believes the city should pursue state and federal assistance to that end.

“The real villains in this process are the building owner, whose sole motivation is to take the insurance money and run with disregard for downtown, and city leadership for lacking the fortitude to do the right thing,” he said. “These individuals will have the long legacy as destroyers of downtown’s future.”

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.