Liberty Township Sees Commercial Growth on Belmont Avenue
LIBERTY TOWNSHIP, Ohio – A spurt of commercial development and a proposed project at the long-vacant Kmart site has Liberty Township officials and a longtime real estate professional optimistic about the community’s prospects.
With access to Interstate 80 and state Route 11 from Belmont Avenue, also known as state Route 193, Liberty serves as a “gateway” to the Youngstown community, says township trustee Arnie Clebone.
Clebone, first elected in 2017, points to multiple signs of progress. These range from expanding residential development at Kline’s Farm and Terra Bella to commercial projects such as the Homestead RV Center on Belmont Avenue near the northern border of the township, which has a repair center that attracts customers from throughout the region.
Other commercial growth he cites include the recent openings of the ModWash car wash center on the site of the former West Fork restaurant, a new Starbucks that will be joined by a Chipotle next door, and the Bull and Bear Restaurant in the former Joé Restaurant. Popeye’s Louisiana Chicken plans to open a restaurant in the township as well.
“That’s going to be where the old Tim Horton’s is,” township administrator Martha Weirick says.
Non-restaurant developments include the purchase by HD Davis CPAs of a 30,000-square-foot office complex and nearby plaza, a new Ohio Department of Transportation facility and plans by Walmart to renovate the 153,867-square-foot store it has operated in Liberty Plaza since 2009.
“The Goldie Road Walmart is scheduled to be remodeled in summer 2023,” Walmart spokesman Mark Rickel confirms, although he could not offer specifics regarding what the remodel would entail.
In 2019, building permits for commercial projects valued at $3.2 million were approved in the township, and permits for such projects totaling $3.6 million were approved in 2020. Commercial permits totaling $5.3 million were approved in 2021 and nearly $2 million in permits have been approved year-to-date this year.
“There’s a lot of things going on right now,’” says Alan Friedkin, associate broker at Burgan Friedkin Commercial Group, which has offices in the township. Burgan Friedkin recently found a tenant for the last vacant space at Colonial Plaza, and he is looking to have the last vacancy in the Churchill Commons plaza leased next month.
There is a “very large project that we’re projecting for next year” at the former Kmart site that could spur additional development in Liberty, according to Friedkin. The department store building was demolished in 2009, and the fate of the 11.2-acre site at Belmont and Trumbull avenues has been a source of speculation for years.
“We feel very strongly about it,” Friedkin says of the potential project.
“I am optimistic it will happen soon because of other recent developments that have already occurred,” Clebone affirms. If that project moves forward, it will mean more employment, accessible shopping, professional services and other development that will attract people to Liberty, boosting sales for existing businesses, he says.
“Of course, increased tax base and valuations mean more revenue for the township, schools and other entities that rely on property taxes. And it relieves the tax burden on residents and businesses,” he adds.
Retail and restaurant activity remain an anchor of the Trumbull County township, particularly along the Belmont Avenue corridor. Charlotte Fader, a longtime Liberty resident, is pleased to see the number of township establishments grow. The township is “a good place to live” that “gets a bad rap sometimes,” she says.
Fader has worked at The Supply Room, another Belmont Avenue business, for 38 years. Her son purchased the business a year ago from her mother-in-law, one of the original co-owners. She has seen the ups and downs of the township and remembers when Liberty Plaza, just north on Belmont, had both Strouss’ and Hills department stores as well as a movie theater.
“It’s nice to think more businesses are willing to come in,” she says.
Earlier this year, Matthew Rydarowicz, with his mother, Patricia, took over ownership of Kravitz Delicatessen, a Belmont Avenue landmark. The restaurant’s clientele includes people who work at neighboring businesses along with others visiting the corridor.
“If we would move this deli somewhere else, we wouldn’t do as well. It’s pretty busy up here,” Rydarowicz says.
The parking lot in front of the deli is usually full, as are others along Belmont, he says. The deli benefits from its proximity to Youngstown State University.
Economic development in the township primarily revolves around retail, Clebone says. Much of the township’s economic development focus has been on what he describes as community development initiatives, including roads and sidewalks.
“When you talk about economic development … I bring it back to community development,” Clebone says. “We want to attract people to our community.”
Streets represent the biggest single improvement, beginning with trustees’ efforts to get a 12-year road levy passed in 2018. The levy was spurred in part by the availability of loan and grant funds through Eastgate Regional Council of Governments. The township initially secured a $75,000 grant and then a $1.7 million loan at zero interest, of which only $1.4 million was needed because bids came in lower than expected.
“We got every arterial, every thoroughfare and we got most of the major residential roads,” and now work is beginning on the smaller roads, Clebone says.
Since 2019, the township has upgraded more than 60 roads.
“I’m amazed at the difference you have streets when are paved and … how that improves the perception of the desirability of the street,” Clebone says. “Suddenly you see people fixing their homes up.”
The township also collaborated with Youngstown and Eastgate on a study of Belmont Avenue, the commercial corridor it shares with the city.
Among the recommendations were additional sidewalks, lighting and landscaping, including in the area near Churchill Commons, the retail plaza anchored by Giant Eagle. The township has secured grant funds through Eastgate and the Western Reserve Transit Authority for sidewalks. Construction could get underway in the spring on one portion, Clebone says.
“It’s about making people feel comfortable when they stop at a hotel or residents, when they’re in the neighborhood, feel comfortable,” he says. The additional sidewalks will make it easier for hotel patrons, to access local restaurants and other amenities and services without having to get back in their vehicles.
“Hopefully we’re moving in the right direction. We’ve got one of the best locations in the area,” with its central geographic position and freeway access, he says.
“We have a corridor where thousands if not millions of cars a year pass. We have a great living environment except it’s not noticed. Perception of it isn’t that great and we have to promote that [positive] perception.”
Pictured at top: Earlier this year, Matthew Rydarowicz, with his mother, Patricia, took over ownership of Kravitz Delicatessen.
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