Development Partners Eye $20M Grant for Lordstown

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Intermodal connectivity, autonomous freight service and a fiber corridor stretching from Lordstown to downtown Warren are among the improvements envisioned by local partners applying for a $20 million federal transportation grant.

A group that includes Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, Western Reserve Port Authority and Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber plans to apply for the funds from the Better Utilizing Investment to Leverage Development, or Build, grants program. The group is also working on lining up $20 million in local matching funds, said Jim Kinnick, Eastgate’s executive director.

Kinnick outlined the proposal at the monthly meeting of the Western Reserve Port Authority’s board of directors.

“It’s worth a shot right now,” he said. 

The application, which must be submitted by May 18 to the U.S. Department of Transportation, is intended to capitalize on several economic development projects in the village. 

In addition to the General Motors Corp.-LG Chem battery plant and Lordstown Motors Corp. taking over GM’s former Lordstown plant, construction is well underway on TJX Companies Inc.’s regional distribution center. Elsewhere, Lordstown Energy Center began operations in 2018 and a sister energy plant is being developed.  

“We think the time is right to chase the money just because of the attention to Lordstown,” Kinnick said. 

Discussions have begun among officials from Eastgate, the chamber, port authority and Youngstown State University regarding other opportunities that could be pursued following the successful application for the Build grant to fund the Smart2 – Strategic & Sustainable, Medical & Manufacturing, Academic & Arts, Residential & Recreational, and Technology & Training – project in Youngstown. 

There, the $10.8 million Build grant is part of the $26 million in infrastructure spending that will include improvements to Fifth Avenue and adjacent downtown streets, plus the implementation of an autonomous shuttle running from St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital to downtown Youngstown.

“This impacts a much larger geographic area,” said John Moliterno, executive director of the port authority of the Lordstown Build grant application. “This is serious job creation.” 

Development of the Lordstown Build grant application is in the early stages, according to Kinnick. Whereas Eastgate applied for the grant for the Smart2 project, the port authority might serve as the applicant this time, Moliterno said.  

“We’re focusing right now on intermodal that would enhance the exchange of containers that come in on the rail or trucks and be able to get those containers to distribution centers and anybody else out there that needs that delivered,” Kinnick said. 

“We’re also looking at the opportunity to use an autonomous truck fleet that would operate from the intermodal [station] to the various distribution centers or companies that need that type of service,” he continued. 

Other elements being considered for the Lordstown Build application include a smart fiber corridor running along state Route 45 from Lordstown to Brite Energy Innovators in downtown Warren; a mobility data center; consolidating the Ohio Turnpike interchange; and a transfer yard. 

Eastgate is in discussion with DriveOhio, the statewide organization for advancement of smart transportation, to develop a corridor for testing the technology on Route 45 and possibly Bailey Road, as well as partnering with the Ohio Turnpike on their initiatives to test autonomous-vehicle technology along all of its 241 miles.  

The installation of fiber “prepares Route 45 for future development,” Moliterno said. 

In addition to improving the environment for the newer projects underway, the infrastructure upgrades can spur companies like FedEx, which has a terminal in nearby North Jackson, to expand. 

“We’re trying to make this area and this part of our region more attractive to economic development,” Kinnick said.  

“This is a tremendous opportunity to create an environment for companies to move to this Valley to take advantage of all the things that build grant can produce,” Moliterno said. “This is potentially a game-changer when it comes to economic development and job creation in the Valley.” 

Port authority board members also heard from Gary O’Nesti, special projects director with LRC Realty, Akron, which is developing South Park Square on the former Kmart property at U.S. Route 224 and South Avenue in Boardman. Last month, the port authority approved bond financing of up to $24 million for LRC at the site. 

A stand-alone Starbucks will open on the site Friday and Mission BBQ is expected to open in late spring in one of the four units in a 10,700-square-foot plaza on the property, O’Nesti said. Discussions are proceeding with potential tenants for the other three units.

At the start of the meeting, port authority board members voted to re-elect their current slate of officers: Martin Loney as president, Sam Covelli as vice president and Rich Edwards as secretary. 

Pictured: Jim Kinnick, executive director of Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, outlines upgrades that would be installed should a group of local development partners move forward on the application for a $20 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.

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