Policy Center Lays Out Plan for Downtown Group

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Based on an idea several Ohio cities have adopted, the revitalization of downtown Youngstown could advance another step by creating a center city organization, the executive director of the Greater Ohio Policy Center, Lavea Brachman, said Tuesday.

She made her remarks at Tuesday’s monthly meeting of Economic Action Group.

In cities such as Dayton and Akron, institutions and stakeholders have come together to develop a master plan and, in some cases, create a special improvement district set forth in that plan.

“Real opportunity, and why a center city organization is so important, happens with developing strategic plans for growth,” Brachman said. “There are a lot of independent efforts going on, but to really lure businesses and create a positive environment, there needs to be a master plan.”

In 2010, Brachman and the policy center came to Youngstown to interview political and business leaders get their comments on needs to happen in the downtown. They returned last year at the behest of the Wean Foundation.

What they found, Brachman said, were fewer fiefdoms, and more cooperation and a greater capacity for growth.

The creation of a center city organization could spur development and help attract those looking to relocate or start businesses. And as a “legacy city,” Youngstown already has what others cities are looking to create.

“One of the big advantages of legacy cities is that they have great bones to start building on,” Brachman said, “cultural assets, lifestyle and affordability.”

If downtown stakeholders and nearby institutions, such as Youngstown State University and St. Elizabeth Medical Center Hospital want to move forward, Brachman suggested they look at Dayton. Its workforce is on track to grow to 50,000 by 2020, build 2,500 new houses within a decade and strengthen its relationships with adjoining neighborhoods.

“Dayton is bigger than Youngstown but it’s very, very good to compare the two and it’s good to be aspirational,” Brachman said. “They created their own [special improvement district] that has to be voted on every five years. So they’re very attentive to their stakeholders. As a result, they’re very much a convener organization as well as a strategic planning group.”

She offered these recommendations how to create a center city group: Meet with key players in the city, identify shared goals, find financing and reuse or adapt properties.

Dominic Marchionda, an organizer of the Economic Action Group, reported on the visit to YSU Sept. 4 of On 75 students from the Kent State University College of Architecture & Environmental Design. The students met with economic and development leaders in the area so they can propose ideas on how to make better use of space within the city.

“Instead of looking at urban design challenges, they’re going to look at adaptive reuse opportunities and underutilized space – whether it’s parking or green space,” Marchionda said. “They’ll be doing a lot stakeholder surveys and coming in periodically between now and December.”

The Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative is also coming up with plans for the downtown area, he added, and will be in town Oct. 22 through 24.

Pictured: Levea Brachman from the Greater Ohio Policy Center.

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