Realty Tower Owner Has Until Monday to Deliver Stabilization Plan

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – As the city waits to hear from the owner of the Realty Tower about stabilizing the building, a Mahoning Valley law firm is preparing lawsuits stemming from the May 28 explosion.

The city has given the owner of the Realty Tower until Monday to deliver a plan to stabilize the building.

“If not received, we are ready to find a willing structural engineer to start the process of safely stabilizing Realty Tower,” a Thursday afternoon news release from Mayor Jamael Tito Brown’s office stated.

It says that after several “in-depth” meetings with the owner, the city hasn’t received a stabilization plan. YO Properties 47 LLC is the property owner.

“Youngstown residents are out of their homes and our businesses are losing money,” the release said. “We simply cannot wait any longer while they seem to be more focused on their bottom line instead of the well-being of our city.”

In the meantime, law firm Betras Kopp LLC is preparing two lawsuits stemming from the explosion at Realty Tower.

“We already have 10 of the tenants signed up in regard to loss of use, contemplated loss of property and costs related to relocation,” said attorney Brian Kopp, adding that the firm plans meetings with other tenants.

The other planned lawsuit involves those who were injured in the explosion, he said.

Potential defendants include the gas company, GreenHeart Companies and YO Properties, but there may be others.

“We have not ruled out any defendant yet,” Kopp said.

About 2:45 May 28, an explosion rocked the Realty Tower, killing one man, injuring several others and displacing residents of the building’s 23 apartments. The man who died, Akil Drake, 27, was an employee of Chase Bank, which had a branch on the first floor.

Drake’s mother and sister last week filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court seeking unspecified damages. Attorneys in West Virginia and Florida filed that complaint.

Kopp expects to file the lawsuits within the next week in Mahoning County.

Due to the building’s instability, Realty residents haven’t been able to enter the building to retrieve their belongings since the explosion.

“If they cannot get access, imagine the loss,” Kopp said. “This was their home.”

The city hired a structural engineering company to perform an assessment of the building. A June 10 letter from the company reported Realty Tower is in imminent danger of collapse without modification. It also recommended that buildings within a 210-foot radius of the building be closed.

The radius is based on 1.5 times the building height. It includes the Stambaugh Building, which houses the DoubleTree by Hilton Youngstown Downtown hotel and Bistro 1907, which have been closed since the explosion, and International Towers.

International Towers, at right, sits next to Realty Tower, which was damaged in the May 28 explosion.

International Towers residents are being evacuated, with noon today set as the deadline for them to be out. The United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley is working with other social service agencies and businesses to find places for International Towers residents to go.

Once residents are out of the building, city police and firefighters will conduct safety and welfare checks. 

“Area agencies have worked diligently to ensure there are no disruptions to core services and needs for the residents,” the release from Brown’s office said.

The United Way established a Downtown Recovery Fund on its website where individuals can donate to help.

Youngstown State University sent information to the campus community about the items needed by displaced residents. The list includes paper products, nonperishable and microwaveable foods and hygiene products. 

They may be dropped off at the main entrance of the University Relations office on the first floor of Tod Hall or at Guest Services, which is on the upper level of Kilcawley Center.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Ohio Fire Marshal’s office and Explosion Investigations Bureau, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, Dominion Gas and the Mahoning County Coroner’s Office are investigating the explosion.

Andy Ellinger, a spokesman for the state fire marshal’s office said the investigation is ongoing.

The National Transportation Safety Board leads the investigation.

NTSB is expected to issue a preliminary report later this month. In briefings with news media, an NTSB member said a below-surface gas line at the site that wasn’t in service but was pressurized with natural gas had been cut. An abandoned gas line isn’t supposed to have gas in it. Six minutes after the line was cut, the explosion occurred.

Work crews from GreenHeart Companies were in the basement relocating utility lines. The city paid GreenHeart about $140,000 to relocate utility lines, including gas lines, from the basement and vault of the building. The work was connected to the Mahoning SMART2 – or Strategic & Sustainable, Medical & Manufacturing, Academic & Arts, Residential & Recreational, Technology & Training – Network project. 

That’s the project aimed at enhancing “mobility, improving safety, and integrating technology into a modern and efficient multimodal transportation system in Downtown Youngstown that is responsive and adaptive to the needs of current and future users,” according to the city’s website.

The NTSB member told the media that the work crew was unaware that one of the pipes was pressurized.

In December, the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission terminated a contract GreenHeart had with the Ohio Department of Transportation to renovate rest areas in Portage County.

A Dec. 5 letter to the company from OFCC listed 17 “material breaches” and notified it of OFCC’s intent to terminate the contract.  

Failure to provide on-site supervision of subcontractors, failure to provide and repair concrete walks to meet specifications, further damaging concrete upon repair and failure “to notify project team when unknown utilities are found on the project site, leading to additional delays in setting landscape signage” are among the items listed.

A Dec. 22 letter from OFCC terminated the contract.

The total contract was nearly $6 million.

Two other lawsuits are pending in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court against GreenHeart seeking payment. One, filed by Trademark Exteriors of Millersburg, Ohio, seeks $29,600. The other, filed by Arch Masonry Inc. of Pittsburgh, seeks $53,773 from GreenHeart and insurance company The Main Street America Group. Each was filed last year.

Pictured at top: The damaged Realty Tower in downtown Youngstown.

Editor’s note: More coverage of the Realty Tower explosion can be viewed HERE.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.