Our Towns

Foundation’s $3M Gift Advances Amphitheater

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Five years ago, Eric Ryan had only hope that an amphitheater would complement the Covelli Centre near the downtown.

That amphitheater, envisioned as part of a sprawling riverfront park between the Market Street Bridge and the Mahoning River, would provide a venue for concerts and community events, the CEO of JAC Live and executive director of the Covelli Centre said.

“This hope, this dream has become a reality,” he declared Monday at a press conference where the Youngstown Foundation announced a $3 million gift for the project. “Hope is now called the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheater.”

Ryan joined city officials and community leaders for the announcement of the foundation’s gift. The amphitheater will be named the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheater, and the foundation will hold naming rights to the amphitheater for 20 years, Jan Strasfeld, executive director, said.

Next year will mark the centennial of the foundation and its leadership wanted to kick off the “milestone year with a significant gift to the community that has given us so much,” she said. The amphitheater will bring the arts and community together in an outdoor setting “and we could not be prouder to have this project bear our name,” she stated.

“It’s an exciting project,” Strasfeld continued. “We’ve been doing our homework and taking a look at the various needs and projects happening in the community, and this is one of several that we are looking forward to supporting.

“This matches our mission of enhancing the quality of life for the residents of Youngstown, and the amphitheater will provide that to all residents of the Valley.”

Added Mayor John A. McNally, “The Youngstown Foundation Amphitheater is going to be a place where the entire community can gather — not only to celebrate the arts, to celebrate entertainment and culture — but also to celebrate Youngstown, family and everything that we think is important in the city of Youngstown.”

Pictured: Eric Ryan, Jan Strasfeld, Mayor John McNally and U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan.

Since it was founded in 1918, the foundation has grown from its initial endowment of $33,000 from Youngstown industrial leaders to $120 million in assets today, Strasfeld said. It is the fourth-oldest community foundation in the world, the largest in the region and ranked by Crain’s Cleveland Business as one of the largest grant-making organizations in northeastern Ohio, she noted.

The foundation is “the gold standard for philanthropy,” George Berlin, chairman of its distribution committee, said. Since its birth, the foundation has given some $200 million to the community, he said.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13 Ohio, pointed out the role the quality of life plays in attracting companies to the Mahoning Valley and keeping its young people here. He cited recent discussions about the amphitheater project between McNally and officials with Ai-Media. The company, based in Sydney, Australia, announced it was establishing its U.S base of operations here.

“That visit sealed the deal,” Ryan said. “They knew they could come here, and offer their employees what they want to offer them — a good job at a good wage and high quality of life.”

Others on hand for the announcement were Sam Covelli, CEO of Covelli Enterprises, the Covelli Centre’s naming rights sponsor; Youngstown State University President Jim Tressel; James Dignan, chief operating officer and incoming president and CEO of the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber; and City Council members Julius Oliver and Anita Davis.

In his remarks, Rep. Ryan mentioned the YSU T-shirts from the 1990s – when Tressel was head coach of the Penguins football team – which had the slogan, “Together Everybody Achieves More,” or TEAM.

“This project is the epitome of a team coming together to make something great happen for the community,” Ryan said.

“If we all work together and create the environment, create the activity, create the spirit, we have a chance to do extraordinary things,” Tressel said

Because of the $3 million gift from the Youngstown Foundation, McNally said he expects to raise about double the private funds toward the amphitheater and riverfront project than had been anticipated.

City officials had expected to raise $3 million to $4 million from naming opportunities for the amphitheater and riverfront park project. The city now estimates it might raise $7 million to $7.5 million in private funds for the $9 million project.

“We expect hopefully in the next month or so to have another three naming rights press conferences,” McNally said.

“We’re seeing relatively strong support among the foundations, among some of the private folks out there,” Finance Director David Bozanich added.

The early money will allow the city to move forward on some aspects of the project earlier than anticipated, the city officials said.

Relocating an 84-inch sewer line is expected to begin in mid-January, with construction work on the amphitheater and the rest of the site anticipated to begin in the spring. The opening would occur in spring 2019, McNally said.

The project was approved recently for a $4 million Section 108 loan from the U.S. Department of Housing and urban Development.

The foundation plans to mark its centennial next year with several major announcements affecting the nonprofit community and the city, Strasfeld said.

“So as I’m known to say, stay tuned, there’s a lot more coming.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.