Rooftop Restaurant in 20 Federal’s Future?

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A rooftop restaurant and observation deck, basement parking garage and an open space from the ground floor to the top of the building are all elements of a proposed reimagining of the 20 Federal Place building downtown.

Jim Ambrose, director of business development for Desmone, the Pittsburgh-based architectural firm the city is working with, shared his company’s proposal for the city-owned building Thursday afternoon.

Ambrose and representatives of Steadfast City Economic & Community Partners participated virtually in a meeting of City Council’s finance committee, during which council members also discussed allocating $7 million from the city’s $82.7 million American Rescue Plan allotment to be used in the city’s seven wards.

In its proposal, Desmone is advocating that the building “has to make a statement” and represent the investments the city has made in economic development, and “allow this piece of real estate to essentially be the physical thing that represents what the future of Youngstown is going to look like,” Ambrose said.

The proposed renovation would preserve all of the historic features of the former Strouss department store as it was originally constructed and restore the original “grand entrance” off West Federal Street, open up the entrance off North Phelps Street and create “an incredible plaza experience” off Commerce Street by demolishing the three-floor addition on the building’s north side, he said.

At the same time, it is proposing “the radical transformation of the building in the sense that we are going to cut a hole in it from the rooftop all the way down to the ground floor level, so as to allow for a ton of natural light and beautiful space to be created,” he said.

Demolition of the three-story addition also would open access for the proposed basement-level parking garage, which would offer free parking for patrons of the building‘s shops. The ground floor would feature food offerings such as produce, meat and bakery stands, similar to the “food hall concept” seen in Cleveland’s West Side Market, providing a destination for city residents as well as patrons from the suburbs, he said.

Above that will be an “innovation space” that offers a shared office environment for startups that eventually could move into more Class A space that will be available on the third floor, he continued. To anchor the building and stabilize it, Desmone plans to introduce “a brand new apartment experience” not yet downtown, though the company is in the early stages of defining what those units might look like. The city has executed a market study to determine unit sizes and what amenities are required.

Finally, the developer is proposing to give the city its first rooftop restaurant and an observation deck, which will have a dedicated elevator that will provide access when the building is open to “go up there and really, truly see the beauty of this wonderful city,” he said.

Desmone has created a strong plan to execute a “very complicated development but also a transformational development that we feel will bring this property to the highest and best use,” said Doug Rasmussen, Steadfast City CEO and managing principal. Its redevelopment also could help “unlock the rest of the block,” which has connecting historical assets such as the former Chase and PNC bank buildings that will be difficult to redevelop without 20 Federal being addressed.

The city will work with each of the building’s existing tenants “to transition them to a better place where they can thrive” if they don’t remain as tenants, Rasmussen added in a phone interview later. It is too early to discuss what might happen with VXI Global Solutions, the call center that leases two full floors and part of an additional floor, and has a recruitment center on the ground floor. 

“It’s really innovative,” Fifth Ward Councilwoman Lauren McNally, chairman of council’s finance committee, said of the proposal following the meeting. What Desmone outlined is “going to make it a very marketable and viable piece of property” a true multi-use space.

“It’ll anchor the downtown,” she said.

Finance Director Kyle Miasek told committee members and those in attendance that the city administration will bring forward an ordinance for council’s next meeting authorizing the board of control to enter into a memorandum of understanding with Desmone. The MOU would give the firm a 60-day exclusivity period and “full access” to the building to determine what those costs of the project will be and to reach out to private both private investors and potential tenants, he said.

The city needs that time to “put the development selection process to bed” and Desmone needs it to go out to potential financial backers and tenants to say it is “dealing seriously” with the city, said Hunter Morrison, a city planning consultant.

During the 60-day period, the city also will work with the Mahoning County Land Bank to prepare an application for potentially as much as $8 million in state funds dedicated for demolition.

“That, along with the financial stacking, will help alleviate some of the burden of trying to redevelop that property,” Morrison said. State and federal historic preservation tax credits also will be sought.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.