Design Review Retroactively Approves Downtown Mural

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The city’s design review committee today approved, albeit belatedly, a new downtown mural project now underway at the State Theater facade and the frontage of an adjoining vacant lot along Federal Street.

The project involves a mural painted on plywood affixed to the bottom portion of the façade depicting an entrance and box office of the former State Theater.  

A second vinyl mural reflecting the history of Youngstown would be attached to a 32-foot chain-link fence that would cover a gaping space between the State Theater site and the Wells Building.

“It will contain a nearly life-size version of my ‘Here in Youngstown’ mural,” said local artist Bob Barko Jr., who conceived of both projects. Barko is working with Youngstown CityScape and Wells Renaissance Partners to complete the mural. 

The State Theater façade work is about 90% complete, Barko told the committee during a virtual meeting Wednesday. 

However, city law director Jeff Limbian put a stop to the project Saturday because it was never presented to the design review committee, which oversees aesthetic, architectural and redevelopment improvements in and near downtown.

“We want projects like this to flourish,” Limbian told the committee.  “It’s important that we maintain the processes that are in place.”

Committee member and city deputy director of public works Chuck Shasho said that everyone involved with this mural should have known that a project of this scale would have required approval from design review before it started. 

“This is not OK to do this,” he said of bypassing the committee. “I think it’s a good improvement and was sorely needed, but I think we do have to be cognizant of the processes and such because we have to set examples for everyone else.”

The State Theater was demolished about 15 years ago but the façade and some of its support structure was left because of its architectural importance.  

The lot next to the façade has remained vacant since and so far, no developer has come forward with a plan to redevelop the property, said Gregg Strollo, a principal in Wells Renaissance Partners. Wells Renaissance successfully redeveloped the landmark Wells Building and owns the State Theater property. 

“We were eager to offer our frontage as a pallet to support his project,” he said.  The vacant lot is often filled with discarded litter, and a higher fence with a vinyl mural would prevent garbage from either being thrown or blown by the wind into the space. 

“It would also provide a valuable venue to allow passersby, especially with kids, to get a piece of Youngstown history,” Strollo said. 

Sharon Letson, executive director of Youngstown CityScape, told the committee that the project provides a “short-term remedy for an eyesore. It’s been like this for a long time.”

The committee suggested a new fence proposed for the project should be reduced in height from 12 feet to 10 feet in order to conform to zoning regulations.

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