Lowellville Lures Fishermen, Cyclists, Kayakers – and Condos

LOWELLVILLE, Ohio – It’s a bright, quiet Friday morning, and Christy Cameron and Emily Montgomery maneuver their kayaks into place at a small launch pad along the Mahoning River. 

The two have kayaked different parts of the Mahoning, Shenango and Cuyahoga rivers in the past, Montgomery said, but it’s the first time they’ve put in at this launch site.

“This is really great,” she said. “It’s really beautiful here.”

Cameron added the pair will start in Lowellville and then kayak the river to New Castle. “We’re expecting this to be about 9 miles,” she noted.

Five years ago, such a trip would have been unthinkable.

In 2021, a decades-long effort to remove the dam at this section of the Mahoning River was finally realized, returning the waterway to its free-flowing state. Further upstream, a second dam at the city of Struthers was recently removed, opening the river to even more recreational opportunities.

Adam Lucas, who has fished the banks of the Mahoning for years in Lowellville, has noticed a difference.

“I’ve been coming down here for a long time,” Lucas said as he prepared to cast his line. “I remember how dirty this water was. Ever since the dam removals, it’s gotten cleaner – there’s a great influx of kayakers coming down.”

Lucas said there’s a wide variety of fish in the river today, such as small-mouth bass, muskie, and walleye.

“I get down here at least two or three times a week,” he said. “Even in the winter.”

Kayakers, cyclists, fishermen – and a multimillion-dollar waterfront development that’s well underway – are gradually changing the landscape of this sleepy town of approximately 1,000 residents.

New Riverfront Development

It’s these amenities that helped convince businessman Matt Estephan to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars to renovate a century-old building into a three-unit riverfront condominium complex, scheduled for completion within four months.

“The first two units will be ready for occupancy in about two to three months,” Estephan said. The building along Water Street once served as a grocery store.

Since November, crews have been busy rehabilitating the brick structure, once an eyesore that was destined for the wrecking ball. Estephan plans to pump approximately $750,000 into restoring the old building.

Workers are preparing the first two units for drywall, and the stairs in the second unit should be installed soon, Estephan said. Each unit has two floors and a basement.

“Each floor is 1,000 square feet, and the basement is about 700 square feet,” he said.

Matt Estephan plans to develop this stretch of riverfront property with condominiums and a cafe/restaurant.

Construction on the third unit – built as an addition to the existing building – is also in progress. A new foundation is in place, while steel should arrive at the site soon, Estephan said. He added the third condo, which he would own, could be completed within four months.

The rear of each unit opens onto a suspended deck that overlooks the river. The basements of each condo will also have windows that present a river view.

Estephan said he plans to sell two of the units, estimating a list price of approximately $350,000 each or more. “There’s a lot of expense,” he said. “It’s old building quality.” 

Once work on the Water Street condos are finished, Estephan plans to begin work on another century building next door. “My plan is to start on the building when we’re done with this. I plan to turn it into a coffee shop and a restaurant.”

His plans are to construct a large deck that extends over the river, so patrons can enjoy an evening or afternoon on the waterfront. “I think it will bring some life into the city,” he said.

Estephan plans to finish that project by the middle of next year. He also hinted at additional projects in the small town, but those are still in the early stages of development.

Public/Private Investments

For Mayor James Iudiciani, these developments are welcome investments in the community. “He’s really bought in,” the mayor said of Estephan.

He emphasized that the village has been successful in leveraging both private and public investments in the community.

The recent completion of a pavilion at River Side Park – the site of the kayak and canoe launch – plus a plan to extend the Stavich Bike Trail through the town, further enhances Lowellville’s appeal, he said. The mayor is also seeking public funds to expand the park.

Emily Montgomery and Christy Cameron prepare to take kayaks out on the Mahoning River in Lowellville.

“The bike trail project is out to bid, so there’s still a lot going on,” he said. The Station Grille at Melillo’s, a landmark restaurant in the village, is under new ownership and is expected to reopen soon, he noted. 

Recreational activity has also helped increase foot traffic at other local small businesses.

Tammy Ross, of Ross’ Market on East Liberty Street, says a bike trail extension would be great for the community, since cyclists from all over often patronize her store.

“Throughout the week, they come in regularly,” she said of cyclists. “Most of them are retired.”

There are some occasions when bike clubs riding across the country stopped in Lowellville to pick up food and refreshments at the market. “The summer before last, bikers from Washington State came through on their way to Washington, D.C.,” she said. “This year, a bike club from Chicago came in on their way to D.C. I guess we pop up on one of the apps they use.”

The small-town market also does strong business with local fishermen. “We sell fishing supplies here and do surprisingly well,” she said.

For anglers such as Lucas, the river has drawn even more sportsmen since the dams were removed. “I see fishermen all the time, a lot of kids,” he said. A good catch for him is between four or five fish, averaging 3 pounds.

Not this Friday, though. “I caught a small one,” he said, shrugging, as he packed his tackle box into his truck. “I think I’ll try downriver a little bit,” on the east side of the village.

Pictured at top: Adam Lucas of Youngstown fishes the Mahoning River at Lowellville two to three times a week.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.