Update: Downtown Business Aid Plan Announced; City Awaits Demolition Details

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – City officials are awaiting plans from the owners of the Realty Tower regarding demolition of the building, which was heavily damaged by a May 28 natural gas explosion. 

Meanwhile, the city and the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber announced Wednesday a relief effort for downtown businesses impacted by the explosion. According to a press release issued by the city, the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber Foundation, the chamber’s fundraising arm, will serve as the fiscal agent for business relief funds, starting with a $200,000 seed grant from the city.

“Our downtown is the economic backbone of our city, and we recognize the strain the last few years have had on the area’s businesses – from Covid to construction and now the Realty Tower explosion,” said Youngstown Mayor Tito Brown. “It is critical that we not only get our businesses back open, but plan for a successful future by creating and realizing a long-term strategic vision for a vibrant Youngstown.”

As part of its advocacy of the downtown area, the partnership will also collaborate on the recruitment of prospective businesses, retention and growth of current businesses, the promotion of events to bring patrons back downtown and a housing strategy to increase residential options downtown.

“We want this to be the beginning of a long-term effort to stimulate economic development in downtown Youngstown,” said Guy Coviello, Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber president and CEO. “It has been heartwarming to see so many people and organizations rallying to help the downtown area and we want to pfay a part.”

The chamber’s foundation will be able to accept donations from private individuals and organizations earmarked for the business relief effort. All of those funds will go to identified downtown businesses, according to the release.

“We want our downtown businesses to know that we hear you and we are here to support you. Your commitment to our community has been unwavering,” First Ward Councilman Julius Oliver said. “This is an opportunity now for our entire community to come together and push Youngstown forward with a shared strategy and vision for a vibrant downtown.”

Realty owner, Yo Properties 47 LLC, and Live Youngstown Property Management, released a statement on their plans saying their priority of honoring the investigation in the death of Akil Drake, the Chase Bank employee who was killed in the explosion, and restoring order to downtown residents and businesses hasn’t wavered.

“Our priorities are reflected in the tentative demolition timeline proposed to the city,” the statement said. “The timeline outlines the retrieval of Realty Tower tenants’ possessions as mid-next week with demolition beginning immediately thereafter.”

An email Tuesday to Realty residents from the property management company said the process of residents getting some of their possessions back is expected to begin Wednesday. Residents won’t be permitted to enter the building, but city firefighters will retrieve items listed by residents. The items must fit into a small suitcase.  

“Please keep in mind, that this is a highly coordinated operation involving engineers, officials, and experts,” the statement said. “As such, there is an element of fluidity to this process but at the heart of this operation is the people affected by this event and it is for their solace and the healing of Youngstown that we are working through this process. The path forward for our city is being forged and that is our focus.” 

Charles Shasho, city deputy director of public works, confirmed Wednesday that representatives of YO Properties 47 have stated plans to begin demolishing the structure potentially as early as next week.

“There’s obviously equipment there. They’re getting ready to start as soon as I get their approvals,” he said. A demotion plan has to be filed with Mahoning County, support braces need to be installed and the demolition plan has to conform with Environmental Protection Agency guidelines.

Jeffrey Uroseva, Mahoning County chief building official, was unavailable to comment Wednesday morning.

A Vindicator story reported plans Wednesday to have enough of the demolition completed by Aug. 2 to permit the DoubleTree by Hilton Youngstown Downtown hotel to reopen and for tenants of the adjacent International Towers apartment building to return.

“I don’t know how they’re going to accomplish that, but that’s their goal,” Shasho said. “We’re going to cooperate as much as we can. We have to follow city ordinances, but if they have to work extra hours, they could work whatever hours they need to get the work done.”

Equipment is parked near the Realty Tower on Wednesday.

Mayor Brown declined to comment until he sees a written plan for demolition of the building.

“I didn’t see anything in writing,” he said Wednesday morning. He also affirmed that Shasho has been in discussion with the building’s owners over the past couple of days.

On Tuesday, Live Youngstown Property Management sent an email to residents of the building’s 23 apartments informing them of plans for city firefighters to retrieve selected items from the building before demolition.

City officials are in discussion with the building’s ownership about what needs to be moved and how the planned demolition will affect the city’s property within the public right-of-way, Shasho said.

“They’re going to have to do some roadway work to position the cranes. We’re removing some features that we can save – some of the new light poles and the traffic signal, stuff that we know is going to get damaged,” he said.

Pictured at top: Excavating equipment is seen at the Realty Tower on Wednesday.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.