New Downtown Events Coordinator Has Experience in the Field

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Melanie Clarke-Penella, the city’s new downtown events coordinator, will serve as the liaison between businesses and city hall, and also as an event planner and marketer.

It’s the type of work she has been doing all along.

Clarke-Penella, 39, was hired by Mayor Jamael Tito Brown last week, and was in her new city hall office Tuesday morning. As a full-time city employee who reports to the mayor, she will receive a salary of $44,000 per year.

Clarke-Penella takes over a position that has been vacant since January 2020, when the contract of previous downtown director Terrill Vidale was not renewed.

The mayor launched a search for a replacement in early 2020 but it was set aside when the pandemic took hold. He again sought resumes in September, and that’s when Penella decided to apply.

“Once I broke down what the job is, I thought ‘This is what I do,’” she said. “I have a skill set that lends itself perfectly to what is needed.”

The 2001 Canfield High School graduate had been living in New York City but returned home a couple years ago when the pandemic started.

She continues to do work as a publicist on a contract basis for Lexicon Public Relations of New York and Los Angeles. Most recently, she worked on the 2020 film “Fatale,” starring Hilary Swank.

Previously, she was vice president of business development at Digital Launch NYC, according to her biography.

Her event planning resume includes the massive Fort Greene Fest in Brooklyn, New York. The music and art festival attracts tens of thousands of people and books major musical acts.

Clarke-Penella attended Youngstown State University for one semester, studying musical theater. She then enrolled at Art Institute of Pittsburgh, where she studied animation for film.

After graduating, she became an entertainment manager and producer in the music industry with national-level clients.

A film writer and producer, Clarke-Penella owns Youngstown Pictures. She has three films in production, all of which were shot in the Youngstown area.

The first, “Among the Ashes,” is in the post-production phase and slated for a late-fall release. A thriller starring Denise Richards (“Starship Troopers,” “Scary Movie,” “The Bold and Beautiful”), it was filmed in downtown Youngstown and Boardman in November.

“It brought about $500,000 [in economic impact] to the area,” Clarke-Penella said.

She also wrote and produced two films that were shot mainly in the Masonic Temple building on Wick Avenue in Youngstown: “Save The Arts” and “223 Wick.”

“Save the Arts is about a group of “failed artists and misfits” that faces extinction when the city starts to enforce building codes at the decaying building in which they live.

“223 Wick” is a psychological thriller that will be released in the Halloween season.

Clarke-Penella also co-wrote “Roadkill McGillicutty.” The film, set in the Youngstown area, has yet to be made.

Her work as a filmmaker only takes a week or two each year, she said, and will not interfere with her new post with the city. “I am a script writer,” she said. “That’s my passion. But I will never use [my new job] as a springboard for that career.”

With the summer festival season almost here, Clarke-Penella plans to hit the ground running. She will lend her assistance to the events that are scheduled this month while getting to know their organizers.

June events include Youngstown Pride Festival, Juneteenth, Simply Slavic Festival and the CityScape Streetscape Day, which is Saturday.

After that, Clarke-Penella will tackle the “backlog of people who need assistance to get their events off the ground.”

She has plans for introducing some new events as well but will wait until she is certain that “what is in my mind is what the downtown community needs.”

Sharon Letson, director of the Downtown Youngstown Partnership, was pleased to hear Clarke-Penella had been hired.

“We’ve got a lot going on downtown and [filling the position] is critical,” Letson said. “[Clarke-Penella] has a lot of different experience and will bring a fresh look to some of the ways we’ve been doing things.”

The DYP is a group of business owners, professionals, community leaders, residents and public officials that focuses on the economic development of downtown.

The downtown events coordinator can play a key role in attracting and retaining business and luring people into the city, Letson said. One key to the job is getting everyone to work together.

“Communication and support for all of us is important,” she said, “and so is being creative. We have to find ways to do things together because it’s a heavy lift for any one organization. We should be looking at things that benefit the broader community, and all of the restaurants, bars and museums.”

Letson said the downtown area is still in a slump caused by the pandemic.

The shortage of employees is exacerbating the problem for restaurants and bars, and so is the reduction in the downtown workforce.

“Some offices are still splitting time with employees in the office and others working remotely,” she said. “We’re not seeing the critical mass of people even during the lunch hour.”

The flurry of festivals, concerts and other events that summer brings could help improve the situation, Letson said.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.