New Events Expected to Draw Thousands Downtown

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Three new events planned for downtown are generating  lots of buzz and while the events will last just one day, drawing thousands to the city, the efforts to stage them have been going on for months.

The events are Federal Frenzy, an art and food festival April 25 produced by a student organization at Youngstown State University; Slide the City, a huge water slide June 27 on the Market Street Bridge to benefit the Rich Center for Autism; and Over the Edge Sept. 25, a fundraiser for Beatitude House in which participants rappel from the top of the First National Bank building.

Planning for Federal Frenzy began six months ago after Penguin Productions wrapped up its annual Fall Fire Fest. Since then, the Youngstown State University organization has worked to put it on the event, the largest the group has staged.

“Student Activities has done a few shows with downtown venues – we did Dueling Pianos at Suzie’s Dogs & Drafts and a few shows at Martini Brothers – so we had some connections with those settings,” says Erin Driscoll, director of Penguin Productions and student activities at the university. “This seemed like a natural time to blow that up. With things coming downtown and that relationship, it was the right opportunity for us.”

For the past two years, Penguin Productions has hosted “Live on Lincoln.” Lincoln Avenue at the southern edge of campus is closed to allow the staging of musical acts, games and food. Live on Lincoln, though, has featured three or four artists all on one stage and drawn, by Driscoll’s estimate, 1,000 people at most.

Federal Frenzy, on the other hand, will feature 17 artists in several venues, an outdoor market hosted by the Rich Center, and other events throughout the day.

“It’s at least the triple the size, maybe quadruple. There are so many more things that will make this much bigger,” says Penguin Productions’ event leader, Carolyn Jesko.

“The work we’ll be doing will be pretty parallel to what we’ve done before with setting up the outdoor space, closing the streets and staffing entrances,” Driscoll says. “The venues know what they need to do for their sound and security.”

After the fire fest, Penguin Productions had $19,000 remaining. Most of that, Driscoll says, is going toward Federal Frenzy. One of the biggest expenses is the 17 musical acts at the festival, seven of which tour nationally. But Penguin Productions first had to book the performers.

Locally, the YSU group sent out a call for bands, asking for samples of original songs and covers. Fifteen responded.

“From there it was this big logic puzzle to see who fit into the show, what order everyone would be in” and time allotted for each, Driscoll says. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t get everyone in, but we kept as many as we could.”

As for the national acts, The Lighthouse and The Whaler, a Cleveland-based rock band, performed at South By Southwest in Austin, Texas, March 20.

“We just reached out and said, ‘We noticed you don’t have any shows scheduled for this weekend. What would it take to bring you here?’ ” she says. “Thankfully, they were willing to take a lower amount to play because it was a chance to play in a new market and because they’re based in Cleveland, they’re accessible to us.”

Michael McGiffin, Youngstown director of downtown events, says he’s envisioned the event as the city’s version of the Austin festival. In putting Federal Frenzy together, he says, the many departments and groups involved have worked seamlessly together.

“From the outside looking in, people say the university and city haven’t played well together in years past. We had a security meeting between both police departments,” he says, that went well.

“We’re trying to offer different chances for this community to interact, whether with artists or vendors or eating at the venues,” Jesko says.

On June 27, the Rich Center will host the water slide event down the Market Street Bridge. It will be run by Slide the City, a group from Salt Lake City.

“They were looking for a Youngstown location and a charity to do it with, but didn’t have any connections to the city,” Bergen Giordani, associate director of development for the Rich Center, explains. “I knew there had been some change over and put Slide the City in contact with the city. From there, they worked to set it all up.”

Several sites were considered, Giordani says, but Market Street was the only one suitable.

Tickets range from $15 to $60, with a portion of sales going to the Rich Center. And while the center will have to find its own volunteers, Slide the City will reimburse the center for volunteers used. Giordani says that as an inaugural event, no fundraising goal has been set.
“I can’t even begin to figure out how many gallons of water it will take to make the whole slide slippery. It’s definitely a logistical feat and we’re fortunate that the city is willing to work with nonprofits to do different events,” she says.

One of the final events on the schedule is Over the Edge on Sept. 25, the fundraiser for Beatitude House where volunteers will rappel from the top of the First National Bank Building, the tallest downtown. Those dropping from the 17th story will first have to raise $1,000, says Jennifer Gray, Beatitude development director.

“Once you raise that, your spot gets secured,” she says. “The average person can’t just write a check for that, so we’ve asked people to do fundraising. If you sign up now, then you have all summer to work toward that amount.”

Gray says she expects the event to raise $100,000 for the charity’s direct services fund.

At the base of the tower, Beatitude House will have what Gray is calling “The Drop Zone,” a family event accompanying the volunteers who rappel.

“We want it to be a family-friendly event. It won’t just be watching people rappel off a building. You’ll come down, have food, play some games, do activities and stick around downtown,” she says. “The Scrappers have been invited. The Phantoms will be there. There will be bands. It’ll be a full event.”

Beatitude House is exploring how to have celebrities drop down the building. Gray will participate, she says, along with the group’s executive director, Sister Janet Gardener and at least one client.

So far, the response from Youngstown and businesses has been great, she says.

“[What’s planned] is huge, Jesko says. There’s no other way to describe it. I’ve never experienced events like this in Youngstown before.”

Pictured: Ashley Jones, Erin Driscoll and Carolyn Jesko are three organizers for Federal Frenzy.

Downtown Events Director Changing Perceptions

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.