Fresh Coast Capital to Reclaim City Park Lands

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Youngstown is among six cities nationwide working with a Chicago-based investment fund in a program designed to reclaim and repurpose vacant land.

Fresh Coast Capital announced Thursday that the $1 million fund would invest in 60 acres of pilot projects in Youngstown, St. Louis, Kansas City, Mo., Elkhart, Ind., and Battle Creek and Flint, Mich.

The fund wants to lease 29 unused acres in portions of four Youngstown city parks to plant trees and flowers, and then harvest them for sale in the future, said Bob Burke, parks director for the city of Youngstown.

Fresh Coast would lease land at four parks no longer in use – Stambaugh Field on the South Side just off Glenwood Avenue; Lower Gibson Park near Poland Avenue on the South Side; Kochis Field on the West Side; and Tod Park on the North Side, Burke said.

The 30-year lease doesn’t involve monetary payments to the city, Burke said. Instead, Fresh Coast is responsible for all upkeep on the properties and the parks department would save thousands of dollars each year in maintenance, labor and fuel while blight is removed from the neighborhoods.

“It’s a great way to turn these into better properties,” Burke said. The parks director also said the company would hire people to maintain the plots, creating jobs in the process, while local florists could purchase flowers grown on the properties.

“Our budgets keep getting tighter and tighter,” he said. “Any way we can save and keep the neighborhoods looking nice is great.”

Trees grown on the parcels would be harvested every 12 years, Burke said. Planting is expected to begin the third week of April.

Sharon Woodberry, Youngstown director of economic development, noted the program is a good way to reclaim vacant, blighted land across the city.

“These are surplus areas of parks that we are no longer using,” Woodberry said. “The project makes the land available for planting oak trees and other plants through a long-term lease.”

The program is modeled on a similar initiative in Gary, Ind.

Mayor John McNally said that the initiative not only helps reduce maintenance and labor costs, but helps storm water drainage in these neighborhoods and the program could expand to brownfield sites.

“It’ll take care of vacant park space through the planting of poplar trees,” he says. “We would like to see how it works in the park properties and then spin it off to some of the brownfield sites we have,” such as the Crab Creek neighborhood, he says. “It’s a green way of addressing some of the issues that we have and doing something a little different.”

Should the city need the land for development, McNally said, portions of the lease could be canceled.

Fresh Coast Capital intends to grow 27,000 trees across the six cities over 15 years, landscape a total of 60 acres, and sequester 28 million pounds of carbon dioxide over the next 15 years.

“The Fresh Coast model partners with forward-thinking municipalities to turn vacant land – which is seen as a liability – into a unique and attractive asset,” said CEO and co-founder Nicole Chavas in a statement. The fund was established in 2014 to help revitalize land in urban areas across the country.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.