Youngstown Considers Virus Relief Fund for Businesses

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A program to assist businesses with recovering from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and an agreement to enlist the Western Reserve Port Authority to market city properties are among the items Youngstown City Council will consider this week. 

Council held a finance committee meeting Monday night to discuss the items, which members will vote on at their meeting Wednesday. 

As part of its response to the pandemic, the city is considering the establishment of a COVID-19 business stabilization program to provide financial assistance to companies in the city. 

“The funds are going to be used to help businesses come out of this whole COVID crisis,” said Nikki Posterli, Youngstown’s director of community planning and economic development department, to council members during the virtual meeting.

The program would use $500,000 Posterli’s department has requested from the $2.9 million community development block grant from HUD awarded to the city’s Community Development Agency, funds to be used to address the pandemic. In addition, KeyBank’s Business Boost & Build Program, in collaboration with Jumpstart Inc., is providing a $20,000 grant. 

The city has been surveying businesses to see how they were affected by Gov. Mike DeWine’s shutdown orders issued to combat the pandemic and to determine what their needs are as they reopen, Posterli said. Among potential uses for the funds include purchasing personal protective equipment or installing physical barriers to comply with social distancing requirements.  

The cost of complying with the new mandates can be difficult, said Fourth Ward Councilman Mike Ray. “Folks are trying to open up and it’s a definite balancing act for them,” he said. 

The city is still working on details of the program, including the application process, said T. Sharon Woodberry, city economic development director. The timing is based on additional guidelines from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that the Community Development Agency is working through, but she anticipated being able to roll out the application process soon. 

“Once we get the final guidelines and the approval from CDA, then we’ll be prepared to provide more information on the entire process,” Woodberry said. 

The city is also working with business partners to get the information out about the program once its details are finalized, including organizations that work with minority-owned businesses. 

Council members also discussed entering into an agreement with the Western Reserve Port Authority to market select city properties for development. The port authority is positioned to be “more nimble” in some aspects of economic development, Posterli said.  

The agreement is modeled on one the port authority entered into with the city of Warren a few years ago. Under that deal, the city can transfer selected properties to the port authority, which can then deal directly with a developer.    

Projects developed under that agreement include converting the former Warren Scope Senior Center into a riverfront wine bar near downtown and the transfer of two other properties to the Trumbull County Historical Society, which plans to develop them, and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul for a new building for the thrift store it operates.

“It’s just part of the ongoing cooperation that we have with local government entities,” said John Moliterno, executive director of the port authority. “Our whole idea is we want to create jobs in the city.” 

The goal is to get properties the city has been “sitting on” back into productive use, Posterli said.

“It’s going to be a tremendous advantage to the city in trying to encourage additional investment from the private sector,” Woodberry said. “It opens up the door for greater opportunity for us to maximize buildings that have been historically underutilized in the city.”

As of yet, no specific buildings or properties have been identified. “We just want to have something in place so when we start looking at city-owned land that we’re acquiring that we have the opportunity to market it well,” Posterli said.      

Ray said he has sites that he would like to work with the port authority on through the program. 

“We need to work with all the resources available. The port authority has a pretty good track record and they can be a great partner with us,” he said. 

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