‘Positive Attitude’ for Streetscape Blooms Amid Construction

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Sharon Letson is philosophical about navigating this year’s edition of Streetscape.

Youngstown CityScape’s signature beautification and cleanup event, now in its 26th year, focuses on the city’s downtown area and adjacent neighborhoods, as a $27.65 million project to upgrade streets in the central business district continues. Because of the roadwork, some areas where Streetscape volunteers normally do plantings won’t have work done this year.

“So sort of like when you’re under construction at home, make what you have look as best as it can, is sort of our take,” CityScape’s executive director said.

This year’s Streetscape theme, “Under Construction and Growing,” embraces a “positive attitude” toward the continuing construction, she said.

The annual event will kick off with a Saturday morning breakfast at Penguin City Brewing Co., which will serve as the host site for the event. Some 750 volunteers have registered to participate in the event, she reported.

“We’re really pretty much back to pre-pandemic numbers,” she said. In addition, unlike past years when Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership students supplemented Streetscape’s numbers, this year’s growth in volunteer numbers was organic.

Financial contributions totaled $50,000, she reported. In addition, some of the plants being used this year were grown at the former Briel’s greenhouse, which CityScape purchased in 2021.

The largest individual group this year, as has been the case in years past, is represented by alumni from Youngstown State University, which has participated in the event since 2005. According to Heather Belgin, director of alumni engagement at YSU, 70 alumni have registered to participate.

“YSU has had a long-standing partnership with Youngstown CityScape that remains important to making the downtown area an inviting place to work, live and pursue an education,” she said.

“Our volunteers really love being able to make a visible difference while enjoying a sense of camaraderie with each other and the hundreds of others who participate,” she continued. “So it’s really that sense of community and the idea of everyone coming together for the greater good that makes Streetscape so special to all of us.”

For volunteers who don’t work, reside or come downtown for other reasons, Streetscape represents “our one-shot opportunity” for them to see downtown Youngstown, Letson said.

Using Penguin City, where volunteers will have lunch after the work is done, additionally provides an opportunity to expose people to the East End of downtown, she added. The opening of Penguin City’s brewery and taproom last year is as critical to that area as when the Mahoning Valley Historical Society acquired and redeveloped the Harry Burt/Ross Radio building on the West End as the Tyler Mahoning Valley History Center.

“Now we have these anchors, both Penguin City and [Youngstown Flea],” she said.

Sharon Letson, executive director of Youngstown CityScape, and Tom Sakmar, construction foreman for the city of Youngstown, talk near mulch that was being moved in preparation for Saturday’s planting event.

Penguin City has participated in Streetscape for several years, Aspasia Lyras-Bernacki, co-owner, said.

“It’s just really important to help be a part of the beautification of our downtown to attract more people to come and enjoy it,” she said. “We just want to be a space where the community can come.”

Letson also praised the support CityScape receives from the city as she watched a front-end loader move mulch in preparation for Saturday’s planting event.

“It’s a critical component,” she said. Without the employees and equipment from various departments that the city provides, CityScape wouldn’t have the capacity or resources to move the plants and mulch around, or even relocate the planters and pots around downtown.    

“So a little construction doesn’t throw anybody because we’ve been doing this together for a long time,” she continued. Regardless of this year’s conditions, “We’re still going to do what we do.”

 Pictured at top: Sharon Letson, executive director of Youngstown CityScape.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.