Councilman: Early Report on Realty Tower Provides ‘More Options’

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Councilman Julius Oliver said he was encouraged by what he heard from structural engineers who inspected the Realty Tower on Thursday afternoon.

Oliver, who represents the city’s 1st Ward, said he anticipated getting “an initial final report” today from Structural Systems Repair Group, a Cincinnati-based firm that was at the site.   

“Their sentiments were basically that there is a clear path forward,” Oliver said. “They are able to stabilize the building fairly quickly, and it comes down to basically putting the lateral beams back on.”

City Council, during a special meeting Thursday evening, approved paying $4,900 from the discretionary funds of the 1st and 4th wards for an additional assessment of the building. Additionally, they approved establishing a $200,000 Economic Rapid Response Grant Program to assist downtown hospitality and tourism businesses affected by the May 28 explosion at the Realty Tower.

“The team had a thorough look at the entire building, interior and exterior, and is optimistic that a plan can be developed quickly together with the city and owner to eliminate the immediate threat to the surrounding area,” said Paul Hagman, a local historic preservation architect who joined the SSRG team on its inspection.

What happens after the building is stabilized, if that is possible, remains up to the building’s owner, YO Properties 47, according to Oliver.

“Three things can happen. It can be stabilized for demolition; it can be stabilized just for people to be able to go in and get their things and then you still demolish it; or it can be stabilized to restore the building,” he said. “Those are the options we have now. Before, the options were stabilize it to demolish it, and that was it. So now there’s another option, and that’s all we were trying to get out there.”

Structural Systems Repair Group representatives examine the Realty Tower on Thursday.

Scott Schulick, chairman of Youngstown CityScape’s board of directors and an advocate who has been rallying support for preserving Realty Tower if possible, said public opinion is leaning toward saving the building.

“But beyond that, it’s been three weeks and it hasn’t been stabilized yet,” he said. Regardless of who is responsible, to reduce the perimeter now around the building so businesses can reopen, stabilization needs to take place. And if it is stabilized to the degree that it is deemed safe for people to enter, then that supports the case for restoration.

But how that plays out behind the scenes is a different story, he acknowledged. Schulick said local architect Gregg Strollo is working to assemble experts from major forensic engineering firms that address the aftermath of major disasters such as earthquakes to assess the structure and determine whether it can be rebuilt.

He doesn’t think demolition will be the quick solution that some believe, in part because of the redundant construction of the structure.

“This is not going to be a quick demo. This demo, if it comes to pass, could take months,” he warned. Implosion might not be possible because of the proximity of other buildings. There are underground tunnels, and a tear down may be “complicated and very expensive,” according to architects he has spoken with. A structure might have to be built around the 13-story building during demolition.

“We don’t have months for downtown to be closed down, so stabilization is a better path,” Schulick said. If the experts determine that the building can’t be saved, people can take comfort that they made their best effort to preserve it.  

“What I heard today definitely gives us more options and a way forward, but like I said it is ultimately up to the building owner,” Oliver said. He said he and architect Paul Hagman likely would receive SSRG’s report but was unaware whether the city administration would apply pressure to keep the building or demolish it.

“Our first concern is the safety of the public and the local businesses,” Hagman said. “That stabilization would also allow for the possibility of rehab, but additional study is still needed.”

Oliver was pleased to see the fund to assist downtown businesses approved Thursday.

“These businesses definitely need help, something to stop the bleeding. Maybe this is something that can keep somebody in business for another month or two until things get straightened out,” he said.

“It’s necessary for trying to help keep [downtown] Youngstown businesses here during this time,” said Councilwoman Anita Davis, 6th Ward. She also described the $200,000 as “not a lot of money” but “a good start.”

Oliver called on community partners to come together to provide more support for downtown businesses and encouraged the public to support them as well.  

“I know the businesses will appreciate the help we gave them today, but I’m looking for more moving forward,” he said.  

“It’s our attempt to help them along here,” Davis added.

Pictured at top: A Structural Systems Repair Group representative looks at the Realty Tower on Thursday.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.