downtown Youngstown revitalization

Downtown’s Renewal Fills Empty Spaces

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – International restaurateurs and hoteliers will soon begin making trips to downtown Youngstown to pick out tableware. Their destination will be the Commerce Building, where Steelite International will convert the top floor into a 15,000-square-foot working showroom and kitchen for its 40 brands.

Renovating the space – it had been The Fifth Floor restaurant and The Youngstown Club – will be “at minimum” a $1 million project, says Steelite owner and CEO John Miles. The project includes remodeling, redoing the floors and repainting. He expects work to be completed by June.

“The buildings that we’re in tend to be historic buildings,” Miles says. “The Commerce Building is in the vein of other buildings we use around the country in terms of look and feel.”

In addition to the showroom that will open in Youngstown, Steelite operates others in New York, Cincinnati, Las Vegas, Atlanta, Chicago and Washington, D.C., as well as in London and Toronto. The company’s U.S. headquarters is in New Castle, Pa.

Steelite’s move to Youngstown was spurred, Miles says, by the flurry of activity in its downtown, namely the addition of the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel. And Ohio One Corp. President Richard Mills, whose company owns the Commerce Building, says he’s hearing similar comments from other prospective tenants. (Watch our Daily BUZZ for more.)

“I’ve had more inquiries in the past year than I have in the recent past for office space. That’s in big part to the positive reports that are coming out,” Mills says. “The people who are inquiring with us are younger, just starting their business or have been in business maybe five years or less. They want to contribute to the growth of downtown.”

Ohio One Corp.’s buildings – City Centre One, the Ohio One Building, the IBM Building and the Rica Building in addition to Commerce – are mostly full. Mills points to the Commerce Building as 96% occupied and City Centre One as 84%. And while the Ohio One Building is “a little light,” he remains “encouraged by the interest.”

At the west end of downtown, Iron and String Life Enhancement is doing renovations of its own at 32 Fifth Ave. Work on the building, purchased in 2013, is entering the final stages as plumbing is installed, leaving mainly cosmetic work.

When all is said and done, says ISLE’s president, Jimmy Sutman, renovation costs will total about $700,000. The final product will be office space for all of ISLE’s operations, a “world headquarters” as Sutman puts it.

“We’re going to put in close to $500,000 now and follow our pattern where we do little projects as we go on without loans,” he says.

While Sutman says he has emotional ties to the downtown of yore, the decision to renovate the building was also about taking part in the revitalization of downtown. The low cost of real estate helped. He paid $44,000 for his first building downtown, now Touch the Moon Candy Saloon on Phelps Street, in 1999.

“I came here because of emotional ties but also because I could afford it. Where else could I buy a two-story building, each [floor] 2,300-square-foot, for $44,000?” he asks. “I couldn’t have done that in Boardman or Canfield.”

Office space rates in downtown remain competitive, says Don Thomas, leasing sales agent for Platz Realty Group, which represents NYO Property Groups’ seven commercial spaces. As-is space in those buildings starts around $9 per square foot compared to rates that can push toward $15 in the suburbs.

Among NYO’s offerings is the First National Bank Building, once known as the Central Tower, then Metropolitan Tower. Then it was home to employees of a single business but today, NYO has broken the office space into manageable chunks for smaller entities. One floor, dubbed “Urban Office Space,” is available for small companies to lease space as small as one office, as Platz Realty does.

“We have an office in this building that has enough room for two desks,” Thomas says. “You can lease one office or two offices or a whole row or, if you grow, a whole floor. This used to all be one player and now it’s multiple, up to and including one-man offices.”

It’s not just NYO seeing small businesses move in. Last year, Advantage Video took over a 1,700-square-foot space in the Commerce Building.

“That’s with four or five employees,” Mills says. “That’s probably about the average size. Steelite is an elephant coming in to town.”

Platz also represents the commercial space available on the bottom level of the DoubleTree by Hilton in the Stambaugh Building. Part of that space will be a locally owned restaurant, Bistro 1907, scheduled to be completed in May. The first floor will offer a bank branch and Branch Street Coffee Roasters café. The hotel lobby will be on the second floor.

Other available NYO spaces include the lower level of Wick Tower, where a restaurant had been slated to open. Thomas says the space could be divided into two or three shops.

“There is a plan to split it up and make it multi-use. So possible coffee shop or doughnut shop, possible small restaurant or small bar,” he says.

Across downtown, Thomas continues, there is no one industry that’s moving in. Arrivals are spread across the board. “For somebody who’s looking for that urban vibe in office, residential, hotel, commercial space, we’re focused on all of those,” he says.

Pictured: Jimmy Sutman, president of Iron and String Life Enhancement.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.