Youngstown Council to Consider Site Readiness, Foster Theater Funding

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – City council members will consider requests to spend nearly $300,000 in American Rescue Plan funds for a contract with the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber to better position city sites for potential development, and to provide funds toward Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp.’s redevelopment of the Foster Theater on the South Side.

Both items are on the agenda for council’s Dec. 7 meeting.

Under its proposed professional services agreement with the city, the chamber would implement a site readiness program that “would provide real-time data and inventory of developable sites and viable buildings within and around the city.” In addition, the chamber would “assist in creating a roadmap to financial, programs and partners to enhance redevelopment efforts,” according to the ordinance.

The chamber would be paid $187,500 for the three-year agreement.

The chamber has served as the lead organization in responding to requests from site selectors about properties in Mahoning and Trumbull counties for several years and has been recording data in both counties to respond to those leads, Shea MacMillan, vice president, economic development, said.

Historical data indicating “our inability to respond to the leads that are coming to us” shows the region is “incredibly less competitive than other regions around Ohio” and even neighboring communities such as Portage County, he said.

The initiative is part of a “proactive strategy to evaluate sites that have been listed on the market, as well as properties that may not have historically been listed, but would pose to be fantastic opportunities for economic development projects,” he said.

“We want to be ready for the next intel or the next Foxconn,” Nikki Posterli, chief of staff to Mayor Jamael Tito Brown and director of the city’s department of community planning and economic development, said.

The contract with the chamber will help the city to better respond when it receives requests for information from potential developers, she said. Often, the city receives those requests with just a few days to respond and with little information about the potential end user. In the vast majority of those cases, the most desirable site isn’t site ready or in the city’s inventory of properties it controls.

“We may have to assemble [sites], we may have to foreclose,” she said “Businesses, they don’t want to wait for that.” The chamber’s role will include mapping inventory and prioritizing developable sites, as well as helping to identify grants that might be available. The initiative also will look at properties in communities contiguous to the city.

There are sites on known corridors that offer “certain benefits,” but have posed challenges for modern manufacturing or distribution, MacMillan said.

“We really want to take a deep dive and look at the sites that we have been submitting and work to create a roadmap for development, to answer some of them those unanswered questions that will mitigate risk for the potential end users,” he said. “We’re really excited to start working with the city of Youngstown on this initiative and we’re very optimistic and think there will be some really great outcomes and increased interest and development because of it.”

Council members also will consider legislation proposed by Fifth Ward Councilwoman Lauren McNally to provide $100,000 toward YNDC’s redevelopment of the Foster Theater. YNDC acquired the Glenwood Avenue in June 2021.

The non-profit development corporation plans to rehabilitate the building’s façade, create two commercial spaces at the front of the building and repurpose the seating hall area as up to four apartments, Ian Beniston, YNDC’s executive director, said.

The structure is one of “the last intact theater-type” buildings in the city outside of downtown. “We’re definitely excited for the opportunity to be able to renovate it,” he said.

Renovation of the theater – which in recent years until its closing showed pornographic films — would be a “substantial” site to assist with the revitalization of the neighborhood and the Glenwood Avenue corridor, Posterli said.

“Getting it in the hands of YNDC was probably the best thing that could have happened,” she remarked.

Work probably wouldn’t get under way until fall 2023, once designs are finalized and permits secured, Beniston projected.

He did not have an estimate for how much the project might cost – other than to say it would be “significant” – but he anticipated having the remaining funding and financing in place to complete the project by then. A GoFundMe campaign to restore the theater’s marquee has raised $10,024.

“We’re working with Strollo Architects to do the necessary design work and due diligence to figure our everything that we have to do to make it a reality,” he said. “We’re still in the design phase so we’ve still got some things to figure out there.”

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