Design Review Panel Pauses Demo of Old Welsh Church

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Demolition of the shuttered Welsh Congregational Church and a closed print shop are on hold at least until next month.

Members of the city’s Design Review Committee tabled until their March meeting requests submitted on behalf of the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown to take down the buildings at 220 Elm St. and 208 W. Wood St. pending submission of detailed plans for landscaping of the two properties, which are near St. Columba Cathedral. 

The intent was to begin demolition as soon as approval was given and have it completed within a month, said Tracie Kaglic, Olsavsky Jaminet president. 

Olsavsky Jaminet Architects Inc., Youngstown, submitted documents showing aerial views of the two buildings to be demolished. Foundations of the structures, adjacent parking areas and a retaining wall adjacent to the church also were to be removed and replaced with landscaping in the near term.

The submissions did not include descriptions of the proposed landscaping, which was among the sticking points for committee members.  

“Our suggestion would be to come forward with a landscape plan with something of a larger vision,” said Hunter Morrison, a planning consultant who works for the city. 

Members of the committee were interested in seeing not only short-term plans for the sites but also potential long-term plans. 

Patrick Kelly, chief financial offer for the diocese, said there are some renderings of a potential structure that would serve as a residence for priests, but the diocese had not yet committed to that as a plan for the site.

“There are many discussions taking place,” Kaglic said.   

The fate of the Welsh structure, reportedly the city’s oldest church, has been the subject of debate for several years, with local preservationists advocating for saving the building. At one point, Youngstown CityScape was working on a plan to relocate the structure to a site at West Wood and Hazel streets.

The building hadn’t been used for worship in more than 25 years and has continued to deteriorate, posing a health risk to the community, Monsignor Robert Siffrin of the diocese said in a statement issued by the diocese Tuesday afternoon. 

“In my opinion, given the current condition of the building and the uncertain efforts to move and refurbish it, this project has become even more uncertain than when we started. With our partners, we have dreamed together about the possibility of saving this historic structure, but the last thing we want to do is move it to a new location where it will continue to languish in its current state (or worse) for years to come,” he said. “With others in the community, I regret that concrete steps have not been able to be developed to save this structure.”

Kelly said there was “no planned purpose” for the building and no funds had been raised to rehabilitate it once it had been relocated. 

The intent was to use the relocated building to benefit the community, said Sharon Letson, Youngstown CityScape executive director. The same individual who committed the funds to move the structure also was interested in committing more money to the project, but Letson said she “couldn’t accept any more money for the project until we had a clear path.” 

In January, diocesan officials announced that the fire-damaged building, which the diocese has owned since 2016, would be demolished, pending city approval.  

“The diocese owns the building so they can decide to do whatever they want with it,” Letson said. 

The city had issued a “raze or repair” order in October 2015, before the diocese acquired the building with the intent of redeveloping the property on Elm Street between Wood Street and Rayen Avenue, Siffrin said. 

The 1997 fire “did a lot of damage to the interior,” Kaglic said. People are unable to enter the building without hugging the perimeter walls because of the hole in it. She also said she would be happy to inspect to see if anything inside is salvageable.  

The church’s stained glass windows and pews are in storage, Kelly said. “We will work with anyone to find a good home for those,” he remarked. 

Letson said the building is in the same condition as it was when CityScape emptied the building and brought in a building mover to relocate the structure. 

Also during the meeting, the panel approved a pair of signage requests on behalf of the Public Library of Youngstown & Mahoning County and Youngstown State University.  

The committee approved a total of seven signs for PLYMC’s Main Library, which is undergoing a $25 million renovation and expansion. 

“We’re very happy with the progress we’ve made so far in this building that we’ve been promising to deliver for about a decade,” Aimee Fifarek, executive director and CEO of the library system, said. The first two phases of the building are now open and fact that the library is coming to the board for sign approval signals the project’s end is approaching.   

The committee approved two ground-mounted signs, one replacing the current Wick Avenue sign and another on East Rayen Avenue; a sign on the new retaining wall on north Walnut Street; two wall-mounted entry signs at the north and south entrances, a media return sign; and a door entry sign at the restored Wick Avenue entrance that recreates the original “For the People” inscription to the bronze transom panel above the new bronze entry doors.  

“We spent a lot of time debating all of these signs,” architect David Hogue of Bostwick Design Partnership, Cleveland, said. They compromised between historic and contemporary by using simple lines and shapes along with “what we thought was a very classic color palate,” he said. 

“It’s very well done,” committee member Bill D’Avignon said. 

Plans for upgrades to face replacements for three existing YSU signs at Fifth and Rayen avenues, Fifth and the eastbound service road, and the service road and Wick Avenue were approved without discussion. No one representing YSU or R.L. Smith Graphics inc., Boardman, participated in Tuesday’s meeting. 

Pictured: Demolition of the shuttered Welsh Congregational Church and a closed print shop are on hold at least until next month.

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