Smart2 Phase I on Track, Phase II Design Underway

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The city’s planning commission on Tuesday approved zoning changes intended to spur small-business development and received an update on one of Youngstown’s most ambitious infrastructure projects.

Jim Kinnick, executive director of Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, said Phase I of the Smart2 project along Fifth Avenue should be finished by next year, while Phase II is on track for completion by the fall of 2022.

“It’s nice to see all the hard work come to fruition and see a project being built,” Kinnick said. A third phase that features the installation of an autonomous shuttle could be available by spring of 2023, he said.

Phase I entails reducing the number of lanes along Fifth Avenue from five to two plus a turning lane, and bisecting the thoroughfare with a decorative boulevard. The upgrades include new surfacing, lighting, and brick crosswalks. The first phase calls for improvements along Fifth from the intersection at Federal Street downtown to the Madison Avenue Expressway, essentially parallel to the Youngstown State University campus.

A small portion of the first phase of the project is semi-finished and Fifth Avenue was recently opened, for now, to through traffic, he said.

Design work is underway with Phase II of the effort, Kinnick noted. This component involves resurfacing and improving seven streets that would end up linking downtown, YSU and Mercy Health along Belmont Avenue.

Kinnick said improvements such as a bike path would run along the south side of Front Street and tie into Wean Park and the amphitheater area, eventually connecting with another path under construction on Mahoning Avenue that leads into Mill Creek Park. Federal Street will receive wider walkways that front businesses, improved boulevard planters, new lighting and changes to street parking from diagonal to parallel where needed.

Commerce Street, Rayen Avenue and Phelps Street downtown will also receive upgrades, Kinnick said.

Phase II includes other improvements to Fifth Avenue north of Madison Avenue to Park Avenue. Park Avenue will also receive upgrades since it runs perpendicular to Belmont Avenue and St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital.

The third phase is the installation of an autonomous shuttle that will link the downtown, YSU and Mercy Health, Kinnick noted. He said he expects that to become operational in the spring of 2023.

Another component of the project is the build-out of a high-speed internet network that will support the Smart2 effort. On Oct. 14, Eastgate was awarded a $1.45 million grant by the Appalachian Regional Commission to build that network, which will serve 212 business sites and create 119 jobs.

“That conduit will be used to manage fiber for high-speed internet connections all along the corridor,” Kinnick said.

The city in 2018 received a $10.8 million Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development, or Build, grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation toward the $22 million project. Local partners in the project, which include YSU, the city of Youngstown, the Western Reserve Transit Authority and Mercy Health-Youngstown, raised nearly $11 million in in-kind matches for the grant.

“We’re starting to see more investment happening,” Mayor Jamael Tito Brown said. “It’s been a labor of love for us – it’s getting individuals excited.”

The planning commission on Tuesday also approved rezoning property at 28-32 Indianola Ave. from mixed use-community to industrial green.

Donald B. Jones said he wants to develop a new plastics research and demonstration center there.

“The purpose of the facility is to demonstrate a new polymer processing technology that allows normally incompatible plastics to be mixed into a new homogeneous material,” he said.

Sixth Ward Councilwoman Anita Davis said she’s visited the building and the neighborhood already contains some light industrial activity. “I was amazed at the equipment,” she said.

Also, the board approved Ron Carlos Hilton’s request to rezone property along 2304 Hillman St. from one and two family residential to mixed-use community.

Hilton said he wants to start a grocery store at the site. He also was granted a zone change for adjoining land that would be used for a parking lot.

“I have the funding in place, I just need the zoning change,” he told the commission.

And the commission recommended the city support a request by Terrelle Tomlin to transfer a liquor permit from outside the city to an establishment he is renovating on South Avenue.

“The goal is to make it a place that people can call their own,” he said.

The board denied a request to change zone classification for property along E. Midlothian from single family residential to mixed-use community. Edward Snitzer, the owner, petitioned the commission for the change because he wanted to operate a plumbing business out of the residence.

Neighbors and board members were concerned about future commercial activity at the site such as trucks and vehicles that they say in the past have been parked outside.

The commission also denied a zoning request for Euginia Tucker, who requested a zoning change to accommodate a group home at 1555 Weston Ave.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.