The Road Ahead Looks Better for Downtown Nightlife

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – With Covelli Centre, The Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre and Wean Park located on it, Front Street is the city’s welcome mat for visitors on their way to a concert or festival.
Unfortunately, the street is closed for a reconstruction project that will last through the outdoor concert season.

The $15 million project will transform the formerly pothole-patched street in a way that signifies its importance. It will be reduced to one lane in each direction, with turning lanes, new signage and landscaping.

The street is expected to reopen at the end of October, said Chuck Shasho, deputy director of public works for the city. Work on the western half of the street is further along, and that segment could reopen first, he said.

Front Street is not the only downtown street undergoing reconstruction. Work is basically complete on South Phelps Street, which has been turned into a brick-lined walkway with a single lane for vehicular traffic that leads to The Amp’s main entrance.

Downtown has long been a center of nightlife, and nothing consistently attracts more people there than a concert at one of the riverfront venues – all of which are operated by JAC Management.

After a long stretch without concerts because of the pandemic, JAC is eager to see attendance get back to normal levels. Ticket sales are not there yet, but a rebound is definitely in progress, says Ken Bigley, vice president of JAC.

“People got used to staying home,” he said. “We’re still on the comeback.”

The closing of Front Street poses the challenge of guiding newcomers to The Amp, the arena and parking lots. To ease the situation, JAC is sending instructional emails with maps to all ticket buyers, and the city has put up new street signs showing the detour.

The measures seem to be working.

“We had 5,500 people for [the May 7 concert by comedian] Katt Williams,” Bigley said, “and we were able to get everyone in. The Covelli lot filled up and so did other lots. We had to hold the start of the show by 15 minutes but that’s common for heavily attended shows.”

City Councilman Julius Oliver, whose First Ward district encompasses downtown, says the street closing is a temporary inconvenience for a permanent improvement. “We got a lot of complaints about it but before [the work] started,” he said. “They complained about the way the street looked. But you’ve got to go through that pain [before an improvement is made].”

NIGHTLIFE COMEBACK

While downtown bars and restaurants are still feeling the effects of the pandemic, business could get back to normal this summer.

William Happney, general manager of West 34 restaurant and bar on West Federal Street, said he has seen a sharp uptick in business this spring.

“It’s definitely been in its stride since Federal Frenzy,” he said, referring to the April 23 rock festival downtown. “It brought people down here who haven’t been downtown since COVID, and since then, I’ve had people come in who said the first time they were here was during Federal Frenzy.”

Happney also reports that he is getting more applicants seeking jobs at his restaurant, and is seeing more people walking on the sidewalks downtown.

“I can speak for a lot of owners downtown,” he said. “I feel that we’re on our final lap. These next couple months will be the last bit. By the end of July, we should be back to normal.”

The opening of Penguin City Brewing’s $4 million brewery and tap room, slated for mid-June, could jolt downtown nightlife out of its malaise for good. The brewery on the east end of downtown also includes DOPE Cider House and Winery, and a Cockeye BBQ location will open there later this year.

Councilman Oliver lauded the project, describing it as exactly what the city needs.

“Everything going on with Penguin City, DOPE and Cockeye is about entrepreneurs getting together to help each other be successful,” he said. “They want to be part of bringing downtown back.”
JAC’s Bigley says the opening of Penguin City will put a new focus on the eastern side of downtown while complementing what already exists on West Federal Street.

Concertgoers typically pack downtown bars and restaurants before and after shows.

“We love seeing the development of the east end of downtown,” Bigley said. “And coming from the bar industry, I have to say that what they are doing at Penguin City is astonishing – the vision and the ambition.”

The redevelopment of the eastern side of downtown actually started last year, when Youngstown Flea – like Penguin City – moved into a former industrial building. The Flea is a monthly marketplace for local artists and makers.

ADDED ATTRACTIONS

A major people-magnet for downtown has always been festivals and concerts, and for the first time in two years, a full season will take place.

These include Simply Slavic, June 17-18, on Federal Street; Summer Festival of the Arts and Wine and Jazz Festival, July 9-10 at Wean Park; country music superstar Luke Bryan at Wean Park on July 16; the Youngstown Irish Festival July 29-30 at Wean; and the Youngstown Italian Fest, Aug. 5-7.

The concert lineup at Covelli Centre includes Lynyrd Skynyrd, July 22; Australian Pink Floyd, Sept. 15; Ghost, Sept. 20; and Travis Tritt and Chris Johnson, Oct. 8. The Amp will host The Vindys, June 4; Cameo and the Dazz Band, June 18; Pride Youngstown, June 25; Brett Eldredge, Aug. 4; Lee Brice, Sept. 9; Night Out for Neighborhoods, Sept. 16; and Jake Owens, Sept. 29.

Pictured: Road construction on Front Street means concertgoers must follow detour signs to get to the Covelli Centre parking lot.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.