Project Will Create North Phelps ‘Mall’

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Where past projects on North Phelps Street in downtown Youngstown have inconvenienced business owners, Abraham Jafar, owner of Eman’s Lebanese Grill, sees opportunity for next year’s upgrade. 

Jafar has operated his restaurant in the food court of 20 Federal Place for nearly six years. With the North Phelps project, which would create a pedestrian plaza from just north of West Commerce Street to West Federal Street, Jafar is looking at adding access from the rear of his space, which faces Phelps.     

“We can do very good business if we open the back door,” he says. 

Work is expected to start after the holidays on the $1.8 million project, a piece of the gateway corridor from Youngstown State University to the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre. 

The project will involve raising the street to sidewalk level with decorative paving, a sewer line replacement, installing light poles similar to those on Wick Avenue and outdoor string lighting in a concept similar to the popular East 4th Street in Cleveland. 

In addition, bollards will be installed at both ends of the one-block stretch that can be removed if vehicular access is needed.

“We want to have outdoor activity there. We want to have a mall there,” says Charles Shasho, the city deputy director of public works. 

The project represents the final phase of a needed sewer-line replacement that was identified about a decade ago, with some phases addressed as emergencies as needed, Shasho says. The section was removed from other planned work when an Ohio Utilities Protection Service study identified duct banks that didn’t show up during the design phase.

To execute the 400-foot piece of the project, electrical service for affected businesses had to be moved behind Suzie’s Dogs & Drafts and AT&T’s duct banks had to be moved to the sidewalk, Shasho says. 

“Now we’re finally at the point where we could remove AT&T’s existing duct banks that are no longer in use,” he says. “We can remove those and dig the replacement sewer.”   

At the same time, city officials decided to do something for the businesses that had been inconvenienced by the two times North Phelps had been torn up in recent years. 

Beyond that, the public works department began to think about the city’s amphitheater project and the North Phelps corridor leading to it, and wanted to make the stretch a pedestrian-friendly walkway. Closed several times for construction projects, the downtown is “obviously functioning well with being closed,” Shasho says. 

“It’s going to be basically a big patio,” he says. “We think it’s going to spur development.” The work will extend to Erie Terminal Place, where a terraced patio will be installed.   

Within 20 Federal Place, tenants of its food court – such as Jafar – have made “loose inquiries” about flipping their businesses toward North Phelps so they have dual access, Shasho says. 

“They’ll have nighttime vendors or customers out there,” he says. “Phelps and Federal seems to be the main hub of the nightlife. The whole intent of this is to get that pedestrian corridor.” 

If he adds access to North Phelps, Jafar says he is considering expanding to nights and weekends from his normal weekday hours.

Morgen Chretien, co-owner of One Hot Cookie, also is looking forward to the completion of the work, if not the work itself. The city tore up North Phelps in front of the store the week after the shop opened in 2013 and again in 2017, she recalls.

“Obviously during construction it’s not great for business,” she says. 

Nevertheless, she is eager to see the results of the work on North Phelps. “It opens up a lot of opportunities for new business to come,” she says, including restaurants and retailers, which are “seriously lacking” downtown.

Pictured: North Phelps Street will be converted to a pedestrian mall. Construction will begin in the coming months.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.