Lowellville CIC Opens Up New Tools for Development

LOWELLVILLE, Ohio — Tammy Ross sits behind the counter at her family’s small general store on East Liberty Street on a quiet Monday morning in October.

Ross’ Market is the last of a dying breed – a small, family-owned corner store that sells everything from deli meats and cheese to live bait and used tools.  

Still, this small business in a village with a population of about 1,150 people has seen more activity over the last six months than it has in several years.

“There’s a lot going on with all of the kayakers and the cyclists along the bike trail,” she says. Moreover, the village is home to two Airbnbs that lure out-of-town guests, and they often stop into Ross’ to pick up some everyday items or a sandwich. 

Tammy Ross says Ross’ Market is seeing more foot traffic since the Lowellville dam was removed.

“They’re astounded that there is still an old-fashioned, family-owned general store around here,” she says of the guests. “They love seeing it.”

Ross says foot traffic into the store has increased since the Ohio Department of Environmental Protection removed the Lowellville dam along the Mahoning River last year.  Since then, the village has witnessed an uptick of canoe and kayak usage along this portion of the river, along with a steady stream of fishers.

The dam removal opens up the river for sustained recreation through canoeing, kayaking, fishing and hiking, Ross says. It also helps with any riverfront businesses development in the village’s downtown.

As such, the village has turned to a strategy that it believes will have an impact on community and economic development well into the future.

The Lowellville Community Improvement Corp., doing business as Lowellville Forward Corp., was recently awarded 501(c) 3 designation, which allows the not-for-profit to pursue federal and state funding for important development projects, says Mayor Jim Iudiciani. 

“We’re learning as we go,” Iudiciani says.  “It’s another tool to go after grants.”

It took about three years to establish the organization, Iudiciani said. Several years ago, the mayor said he and others were intrigued by a presentation from representatives of Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, in which it demonstrated how community improvement corporations could leverage funding for development in ways municipalities and villages cannot. 

The designation comes just as the village is finishing work on a new canoe launch livery along the Mahoning River, where recently the remains of the long-standing dam were removed.  

“The livery should be finished by November,” the mayor says, while bathrooms should be complete and in place by December.  A ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate completion of the project is targeted for Dec. 3.

Bob Coppola, a village councilman of 28 years, says the livery could help promote a trickle-down effect on property owners along Water Street along the north side of the river. 

“It’s a start,” he says.  “We needed this first item to get going. It creates a lot of activity and once it gets finished, we think there’ll be a whole lot of interest.”

Moreover, the new designation allows Lowellville Forward to pursue future development along the river, Iudiciani said.  The village has acquired 13 acres of riverfront property adjacent to the canoe livery and has plans to develop the land into a riverside park replete with picnic areas, kiosks, a walking path and a possible Frisbee course, he noted.

“The development would cost about $700,000,” Iudiciani said. 

The project does not qualify for CleanOhio grant funding since it already owns the property, Iudiciani says.  However, Lowellville Forward has the ability to secure grant funding through foundations and other entities in order to support such projects and future ventures, he said.

“It gives us a little more flexibility to go after different grant monies from other nonprofits,” he says. “That’s how we’d like to get it funded.” 

There is also plenty of opportunity to leverage new development along Water Street and East Liberty Street downtown, Iudiciani says.  Much of the building stock is more than 50 years old and is in need of rehabilitation. 

Most of the targeted development in the village is on the north side of the river. However, the mayor says private businesses are stepping up investment in their own right.  Falcon Foundry, the largest employer in the village, recently invested $1 million into its operations on the east side of the village. 

Another $9 million project that is still bound by a nondisclosure agreement is pending for the former Sharon Slag property on the south side of the river, Iudiciani says. “We would extend McGaffney Street for another 700 feet into the wooded area,” he says. “The road will cover 10 acres and tie it in to the former Sharon Slag property.” 

Pictured at top: A series of historical placards line the banks the Mahoning River in Lowellville.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.