Historical Society Unveils $10M Campaign, Plans for IBM Building

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Improvements to the former IBM Building, recently acquired by the Mahoning Valley Historical Society, will be the keystone of a capital fundraising campaign MVHS leaders announced Tuesday.

Bill Lawson, MVHS’s executive director, and Scott Schulick, chairman of the historical society’s board of directors, shared details of the campaign and plans for the building. The historical society closed Nov. 17 on its $1.9 million purchase of the 250 E. Federal St. building from Mills Community Urban Redevelopment Corp., where it had leased space since 1999.   

The campaign, discussed during a news conference in the building’s lobby, has a “working number” of $10 million, though Lawson acknowledged that figure is likely to rise. 

“This project has been in the making for some time,” Schulick said. A few years ago, MVHS was looking to expand its footprint and construct a building to house its “vast collection” and archive, materials now stored across downtown and throughout the community. The IBM property being put on the market created “an opportunity to purchase a very well-constructed building with a lot more space” for about the same amount of money needed to construct a new building.

MVHS has had a presence in the building since 1999, when it took over management of the business and media archives collection, since relocated to MVHS’s Arms Family Museum Carriage House. The historical society retained the space and continued to use it to store its three-dimensional collections, Lawson said.

“We see many advantages and opportunities in this property,” Lawson said. “It’s a very large building. … In fact, there are over 45,000 square feet of usable space on the top three floors, including this lobby here.”

Bill Lawson, MVHS’s executive director, said the historical society has used space in the building to store collections.

The capital campaign announced Tuesday will raise funds for renovations to the building to accommodate additional storage and create new exhibit space, and other exterior and interior upgrades, he said. Even though the building is well maintained, it is 43 years old and needs façade improvements, new windows and a roof upgrade, among other enhancements.

“We have some estimates, probably in the $5.5 [million] to $6.5 million range in terms of improvements throughout the building,” he said.

Funds for the campaign, which is being launched in advance of MVHS’ 150th anniversary in 2025, also will go toward preservation, restoration and renovation work at the Arms Museum, he said. In addition, the historical society recently purchased a parking lot next to its Tyler Mahoning Valley History Center, where enhancements to the lot itself, as well as potential exterior spaces by the building, are being planned.

“It’s a great opportunity to consolidate our collection storage here and to anchor this side of downtown, just as we have with the Tyler Center on the West End,” Schulick said.

Youngstown CityScape, a downtown-focused community improvement nonprofit, currently leases space in the building, and Lawson said MVHS is looking for additional tenants.

Downtown’s West End has seen “a lot of resurgence and redefinition” over the past 20 years, but there is a “strong core of existing businesses” on the East End, Lawson said. The existing base has seen the recent additions of the Youngstown Flea and Penguin City Brewing Co. projects.

Additionally, Lawson pointed to MVHS’ building as “a great example” of the urban renewal movement that took place between 1960 and 1980, which “dramatically” changed road patterns and land use and which he expects to be reflected in the building. He acknowledged criticism of how the urban renewal period made downtowns more automobile oriented as opposed to pedestrian oriented.

“The fact of the matter is, it happened, and it changed the way this side of town works,” he said. “But still, it did not end up chasing people away because there’s still a very strong core of businesses and institutions that are operating here on the East End.”

Visitors “need to be oriented to what has happened on the East End of downtown Youngstown throughout its history and, more importantly, because of the way it looks today, over the last 40 to 50 years,” he added.

Lawson said he would like to see the new exhibit space open within three years, though he acknowledged that would depend on the success of the fundraising effort. In addition to the MVHS 150th anniversary that the campaign will revolve around, he is looking to the semiquincentennial of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 2026.

“There’s going to be a lot of community events here in Youngstown and throughout the country during that time,” he said. “And so we want to have something meaningful for people to see as part of that celebration.”

Pictured at top: Bill Lawson, MVHS’s executive director, and Scott Schulick, chairman of the historical society’s board of directors.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.