Structural Assessment of Realty Tower to Begin Friday

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Structural engineers from Barber & Hoffman, Consulting Engineers will be at the Realty Tower on Friday to begin the assessment of the building, which was badly damaged by a natural gas line explosion May 28.

The engineering consultants will join a group that will include representatives of the building’s ownership, insurance agents, city officials and others at the site, Mayor Jamael Tito Brown said during a news conference Thursday morning. Less than an hour earlier, the city’s Board of Control approved a $7,500 payment to engage the firm.    

“I don’t have a time frame as to when it’s going to be complete. It could be tomorrow. It could be next week. So we’ll see what they find when they get going,” said Charles Shasho, deputy director of public works.

“I don’t want to rush anything. I can’t rush it when public safety is at hand here,” Brown said.

Shasho described the $7,500 payment as “retainage” to get the structural engineers started “in the fastest manner” in the interest of public safety. “Once they get in there and really take a look and see what needs to be done, or what else needs to be looked at, they’ll be able to more accurately give us a quote that reflects the scope of work that they’re going to need,” he said.  

The scope of services provided under the agreement will include determining if the structure presents an imminent public danger from collapse and the safety of removing debris, Brown said. The firm also will determine whether the building is safe for inspectors from the National Transportation Safety Board to continue its work there.

The damaged Realty Tower in downtown Youngstown.

“There are still pieces of evidence the NTSB wants to acquire in the building,” Brown said.

“With some of the structural members, there’s a lot of concern about some of the lateral bracing,” Shasho said. Because of the building’s height, it would have a “very large collapse zone” if it were to fall, he said. 

As the work continues, the structural engineers could reach a conclusion regarding whether tenants of the building’s 23 apartment units could reenter the building to reclaim personal belongings, Brown said.

Councilman Julius Oliver, 1st Ward, offered assurances to the Realty Towers’ tenants. Over the past week, tenants received correspondence reiterating conditions and time frames for breaking their lease and vacating the property “if the said premises shall without fault or neglect on Lessees’ part be destroyed or injured by any cause as to be unfit for occupancy.”

If it isn’t safe for NTSB personnel to reenter the building, it “of course” isn’t safe for tenants to enter, the councilman said.

“Just to be clear, that 30 to 60 days that was in that lease has not even started,” he emphasized.

Shasho also assured that upcoming city festivals scheduled to be held downtown, including Simply Slavic and the Greater Youngstown Italian Fest, should be able to proceed. Simply Slavic can proceed at its planned site with “some minor adjustments,” he said.

Depending on how long the situation lasts, Oliver said he doesn’t see any problem working with the city events coordinator to make adjustments. “We have multiple different places for festivals and events,” he said “If any of those events need to be moved, we already have the space.”

The Stambaugh Building, which is to the north of the Realty Tower on the side that the explosion took place, remains closed by order of fire Chief Barry Finley. The building’s tenants include the DoubleTree by Hilton Downtown Youngstown hotel, the Bistro 1907 restaurant and a Huntington Bank branch.

“Until the stability of that building becomes apparent to us, I’m going to keep the order in place,” Finley said.

The city is exploring ways to assist downtown businesses, Brown said. Since 2020, those businesses have had to endure the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, ongoing downtown road construction that has hampered access and now the disruption caused by the Realty Tower explosion.  

“We truly sympathize with the business owners downtown because they’ve stuck with us. We know it’s a financial strain,” the mayor said. In addition to searching for financial assistance for the businesses, he said the city is looking at marketing opportunities.

He also urged people and businesses in the community to patronize those businesses either by dining in person or ordering food from them using a delivery service such as DoorDash.

Pictured at top: From left are Youngstown fire Chief Barry Finley, Deputy Director of Public Works Charles Shasho, Mayor Jamael Tito Brown and Councilman Julius Oliver.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.