Youngstown, CityScape Seek Input on Belmont Plan

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A partnership between the city of Youngstown and Youngstown CityScape aims to re-envision the Belmont Avenue corridor.

A 6 p.m. meeting Thursday at the Jewish Community Center will kick off the effort to gather input from community stakeholders for the Belmont Corridor Strategic Investment Plan. The study and plan will cover Belmont from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard downtown north to the border with Trumbull County at Gypsy Lane.

The city and CityScape are working with Milestones Partners, a Cleveland area consulting firm, to perform the study and prepare the plan, which is being paid for using part of the $2 million in American Rescue Plan funding allocated for projects in the 3rd Ward.

The objective is to craft “an actionable and impactful plan for investment and redevelopment tailored” to the corridor, according to am accouncment of the meeting. The plan will focus on three defined areas along the corridor: the Belmont Gateway district, Belmont Town Center District and Belmont-Arlington District.

Turner said she appropriated about $1.1 million from her ward’s ARP allocation to Youngstown CityScape for projects in the ward, at least $300,000 of which she expects to go toward the Belmont plan and beautification projects along the corridor. 

The partners will engage businesses, residents and anchor institutions such as Phantom Fireworks and St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital, along and near Belmont Avenue, to determine what they want to see happen on the corridor, Councilwoman Samantha Turner, D-3rd Ward, said.

“This is the starting point,” she said. Representatives of Milestones Partners at Thursday’s meeting will introduce “the broad picture of what we’re going to be doing and what we’re asking of the community” in terms of their participation and input, she said.

“Our goal is to have a complete partnership with any property owners, landlords, businesses on the corridor, so we can get their input,” she added.

“We don’t have a plan in our head,” Sharon Letson, executive director of Youngstown CityScape, emphasized. “The important part of this plan is for the community to come forward and be engaged and help develop this plan.”

The goal is to have a completed plan to present to the public in six months at the most, Turner said.

“Whenever a grant opportunity comes up, you have to have a plan in place. “So often as a community we’re struggling because we don’t have our plan ready,” Letson said. This will provide Youngstown with a plan to present to potential funders when they seek funds for specific projects. 

Four years ago, Eastgate Regional Council of Governments conducted a study of Belmont in both communities that focused on issues including lane configurations, traffic and congestion and safety. The current effort isn’t directly tied to that study, but the partners in the new study plan to engage Liberty officials, Turner confirmed.

“We want this northern entrance to be revitalized from top to bottom,” she said.

“What I hope happens is this is the first step in the connection between the two jurisdictions,” Letson added. “It’s a key corridor.”

Belmont Avenue in Youngstown.

As the study and planning process are underway, the partners will do roadside cleanups and beautification and greening projects along the corridor, which Turner said could be permanent or temporary, “just to begin the process of moving the corridor forward.” One of the big projects she has in mind is beautifying the northern entrance on Gypsy Lane so as motorists turn from the 711 Connector on Gypsy and come into Belmont, they see “a warm welcome” entering the city.

“We also would like to see some support and help through the dollars that the city put out for business loans and façade grants to help get some consistency in the image as you come downtown or you head over to Stambaugh Auditorium,” she said.

The outreach will include owners of properties adjacent to Belmont as well as directly on the corridor, including the Cafaro Co., which owns the Union Square Plaza at the corner of Gypsy Lane and Belmont, Turner said. 

The real estate firm is working on finalizing a deal with a new tenant in the plaza, Joe Bell, Cafaro’s director of corporate communications, said. The company was based for decades in the building where Phantom Fireworks is now headquartered, before Cafaro’s 2016 move to the Eastwood Mall Complex.  

“Any redevelopment along that corridor is important because it’s been an iconic gateway from the north going into the city,” but one that “has seen better times,” Bell acknowledged. “Anything that can be done to not just beautify and maybe redevelop some of the business properties along there, it’s all good for anybody who’s still doing business on that road.”  

William Weimer, vice president and general counsel for Phantom Fireworks, said in an email he had been approached years ago by Liberty and Youngstown officials about Belmont, but nothing happened. He said he was contacted more recently by Turner, who said something was going to happen related to the corridor, but he did not receive any follow-up and was unaware of what was being planned. 

“I certainly hope something does happen in this regard,” he said.

“This is the rollout,” with further group discussion sessions and one-on-one conversations planned, Turner reiterated. “This is really just a start to the larger work that’s going to be happening.”

Pictured at top: Youngstown City Councilwoman Samantha Turner, D-3rd Ward, left, and Sharon Letson, executive director of Youngstown CityScape.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.