Sen. Brown Looks to Help After Realty Tower Explosion

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — With demolition of the Realty Tower to begin Thursday, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown met with stakeholders to see if he can help residents or downtown business owners.

Brown, D-Ohio, met Monday with business owners and employees, residents, government officials, and community members affected by the May 28 explosion at the Realty Tower downtown.

“There are dozens of people who don’t have a home now who are staying in different places,” Brown said during a media briefing after the roundtable, which was closed to media. “My job is to try and help them. I chair the banking and housing committee.”

He said he wanted to listen to those affected and figure out a path where his office might be able to help.

Brown said one of the businesspeople who attended the roundtable pointed out that the Realty explosion followed street construction and the pandemic, all of which damaged downtown businesses.

“It’s clear we have work to do,” Brown said.

The explosion killed one man, an employee of the Chase Bank on the building’s first floor, injured several others, and displaced Realty’s residents. The Stambaugh Building across the street, which houses both the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel and Bistro 1907, has been closed since the explosion because of its proximity to the Realty.

In mid-June, International Towers, next to Realty, was evacuated after engineers hired by the city determined Realty was in “imminent danger of collapse” without modification.

The building’s owner, Yo Properties 47 LLC, plans to demolish the historic structure and submitted some documents last week to the Mahoning County Building Inspection Department.

But a group of residents has been rallying to try to save the building, pointing to its historic significance and to the idea that it’s an anchor of downtown.

Brown declined to weigh in on that decision, saying it’s a local one.

“I will help with federal law any way I can,” he said. “I will help if possible with some federal dollars. We’ve done that with East Palestine. We will do that here if we can work with local people and figure it out… My job is not to make the decision of what to do with the building.”

Reallocating federal funds already earmarked for the city to improve infrastructure is one possibility, he said. That may be in the form of grants or low-interest loans.

The owner of the building is moving forward with demolition plans. An affidavit submitted last week to the building department by Brian Angelilli, managing member of Yo Properties, said the building is “no longer safe or suitable for occupancy” and that it is in the best interest of public safety that it be demolished.

Moderalli Excavating of Poland submitted a demolition plan, dated July 1, to Angelilli that was included in documents presented to the building department. The contract amount listed on the documents is $1.8 million.

The plan states that demolition will begin at the top of the building, starting with a crane and a wrecking ball. The structure will be taken down floor by floor. Fencing will be placed to encompass areas where work is being done. Regarding shoring of the building, missing cross members will be replaced and a beam will be added to fortify an upright column that was damaged, according to the plan.

Outside of the building, curbing, roadways, and walkways will be removed if needed and hauled away, the plan said. A few trees, branches, and plants may be removed as well. All utilities will be capped as needed, and walls will be removed three feet below grade. The basement floor will be broken up to allow for drainage.

The building will “be filled with a clay/shale mix and compacted with a vibratory roller,” the demolition plan submitted by the contractor said, and the site will be graded to have positive drainage.

Work is expected to begin Thursday, with Aug. 31 listed as the completion date on the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency demolition notification that was among the documents delivered to the building department. However, city officials have said that the company’s goal is to have enough of the building demolished by Aug. 2 to allow International Towers residents to return home and businesses to reopen.

On Wednesday, city firefighters are expected to enter the Realty Tower to retrieve items listed by residents that they would like back. The items must fit into a 22”x14”x9” bag.

Bob Hannon, president of the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, attended the Monday roundtable with Brown. He said 170 International Towers residents have been living in hotels, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities since they were evacuated.

“Our funding for those people ends July 15,” Hannon said. “So the immediate concern is how do we get the funding from July 16 to Aug. 2 to continue keeping them in a hotel, assisted living…wherever they may be.”

He estimated the amount needed is $85,000. The agency spent about $170,000 for the first month of lodging and food cards for those International Towers residents.

The United Way established a Downtown Recovery Fund to collect donations.

Hannon hopes Brown secures federal funding to help residents or downtown businesses. 

International Towers residents are getting anxious and want answers about when they can return home, he said.

“Staying in a hotel works, but they’ve lost their identity and their community,” Hannon said. “That’s their home. That’s where they live. That’s where they socialize.”

There was concern, he said, about the owners of Realty Tower.

“I feel International Towers ownership and management team has been very receptive and have been at the table,” Hannon said.

“Where’s Realty Tower’s owners been? We’ve not heard from them. We talk to International every day. I think there could be more dialogue with Realty Tower — maybe they could step up and be more vocal. I think their lack of voice in this has led some to be concerned that maybe they should be doing more.”

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.