Downtown Advocates Want Options Explored for Realty Tower

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Those who want to see the Realty Tower preserved maintain there are options that should be explored before a decision to demolish it is made.

“I think it’s evident the city of Youngstown needs state and federal aid to assist in stabilizing the building so it’s made safe and the liability reduced and it becomes insurable,” Scott Schulick, a downtown advocate, said. “If that’s the case, it likely can be restored and there may be other entities who would assume control of the building.”

A May 28 explosion at the historic downtown building killed one man, injured several others and displaced residents of the building’s 23 apartments. A June 10 determination by a structural engineer hired by the city found the building to be in imminent danger of collapse without modification. That led to the residents of International Towers being evacuated that same week.

Mayor Jamael Tito Brown said in a news conference Tuesday that the owner of the building, YO Properties 47 LLC, and its insurance company, Cincinnati Insurance, have until July 5 to comply with an order from the county’s chief building official to address the building’s condition. If they don’t, the city will take legal action

Brown also said at the news conference that ideas to preserve the building are “too long-term and too costly,” adding that no one has provided what the cost would be. Also, a decision on the building’s fate is up to the owner, Brown noted. According to the city, the owners previously said they planned to raze it.

The mayor said International Towers residents need to be able to return to their homes, businesses need to be able to reopen and people need to feel safe downtown. 

“At this point, demolition seems the only clear, precise way to do that,” the mayor said. 

Schulick said that’s unfortunate. If the building is razed, he hopes it follows the process outlined by the city’s design review committee and that the process isn’t circumvented.

A decision to demolish the building doesn’t address other problems that persist downtown. Those problems led him to email downtown stakeholders earlier this month to try to devise a plan to secure downtown’s future.

Schulick believes there’s still a need for people to come together to help downtown get back on its feet. Covid, ongoing road construction and the explosion damaged the area.

“Those don’t just go away,” Schulick said. “There are lingering effects,” and a plan needs to be developed to address it.

He also has questions.

“If the building was deemed in imminent danger, panic was induced by such an announcement and residents of International Towers were evacuated, why has nothing been done by the owner or the city since that announcement to eliminate the imminent danger and provide public safety?” he said.

Sharon Letson, executive director of Youngstown CityScape, believes the city could tap into help from other sources. 

“I suppose my gut reaction is what I said when I made my statement [last week],” she said. “First, we all need to step back and do the things we can do and see how we get through. I think we need help. This is beyond our expertise.”

There are state and federal officials that could help, she said. All of the options need to be explored, Letson said.

She’s concerned about the downtown businesses.

“So the quicker we can stabilize the building, then we can step back and assess the situation and have some help, and maybe the next steps will be evident,” Letson said.

She also noted that it’s been nearly a month since the explosion and the city is only now pushing the building owner and insurance company to act.

Schulick, who is president of Youngstown CityScape’s board of directors, agrees that there are experts who have dealt with similar tragedies in other cities who could help.

“In any city in America, leaders would have emerged to bring something good out of a tragedy,” he said.

Schulick listed the collective response of state, federal and local officials to the Francis Scott Key Bridge accident earlier this year as an example.

“Someone’s feet need to be held to the fire, and we need to turn up the burner,” Schulick said.

Pictured at top: Workers are seen at the Realty Tower in downtown Youngstown on Tuesday.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.