Youngstown Plans to Rebid Portion of Federal Smart2 Work

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Part of the ongoing reconstruction of downtown streets will be removed from the contract and rebid because of “unforeseen circumstances” before the next construction season, but the rest of the roadwork under the contract should be completed ahead of schedule, said Charles Shasho, deputy director of public works. 

Marucci & Gaffney Excavating Co.’s progress on its portion of the Smart2 – Strategic & Sustainable, Medical & Manufacturing, Academic & Arts, Residential & Recreational, Technology & Training Network project – came up during discussion of two unrelated sewer contracts at Monday night’s special meeting of City Council.

In January 2021, the city Board of Control awarded a $15.8 million contract to Marucci & Gaffney Excavating of Youngstown for work on Federal, Front, Commerce and Phelps streets and Rayen, Fifth and Park avenues as part of the $27.65 million project, which is being funded in part by a $10.85 million U.S. Department of Transportation grant.

The section of Federal Street between Phelps and Champion streets will be deducted from the city’s contract with Marucci & Gaffney to address the presence of underground vaults that were discovered and coordinate with downtown property owners, Shasho said. That work will be deducted, and the amount will be adjusted.

“We’re intending to go back up for bids before the next construction season,” probably late winter or early spring, Shasho said.

Federal Street in downtown Youngstown.

The work has left affected downtown streets inaccessible for months at a time, much to the consternation of downtown business owners, workers and visitors.

“It’s just getting hard to answer the questions about what’s happening here,” Councilwoman Samantha Turner, 3rd Ward, said. “This is the line of questioning that I’m getting on a daily basis.”  

Shasho said the company is living up to its contract, which gives them until March 2024 to complete the work. The company, which is performing portions of the work in phases, is not required to complete one road at a time, and doing so likely would be more expensive.

The issue came to a head because of a “very chaotic period of time” between the end of May and just recently involving the stamped concrete crosswalks.

“There’s no way to do those in less than three weeks. It’s just not possible,” he said.

Councilman Julius Oliver, 1st Ward, which  includes downtown, said that while he doesn’t think what is going on downtown is “that bad,” it could be better.

“I do think that this company is, in a way, taking advantage of the city,” he continued. “I feel like they are in charge more than we are in charge of the projects we do at times.”

Oliver Request Approved

During the meeting, council members, with six members voting in favor and one, Turner, abstaining, approved Oliver’s request to allocate $150,000 of his ward’s $2 million allotment of American Rescue Plan funds to the Western Reserve Port Authority.

Oliver wants the port authority to use the funds to purchase a building at 64 Ridge Ave., now owned by Meridian HealthCare, to use for a proposed community center that would provide incubation space for startup businesses, expose local youths to the companies based there and partner with other local service organizations. The port authority’s board of directors voted preemptively last month to execute the agreement, if authorized by the city’s pending approval by the Board of Control.

Law Director Jeff Limbian noted that the city law department’s drafting of the legislation only signifies that it is “approved as to form as to whether or not it’s in the appropriate order” to be a legitimate piece of legislation, not that it “passes legal muster in terms of an expenditure.”

Turner, a member of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Youngstown’s board of directors, read a statement during council’s finance committee meeting from James Bird, CEO and executive director of the youth-oriented organization.

The statement echoed concerns that Bird expressed in a Business Journal story about Oliver’s community center project. While such a multipurpose center would greatly benefit the community, there are several existing facilities operated by organizations that would serve the same purpose, including his organization, which is undertaking a $3.5 million expansion and renovation.

64 Ridge Avenue, Youngstown
The building at 64 Ridge Ave. in Youngstown.

That project has the support of federal, state and county governments, as well as private donors, although the city has not provided ARPA funds.

The club submitted an application for ARPA funds, but it was late, according to Nikki Posterli, the city’s director of community planning and economic development.

Oliver said several of the existing organizations cited in Bird’s statement, including Choffin Career & Technical Center, Youngstown Business Incubator, Flying High Inc. and Students Motivated by the Arts, are collaborating with his effort. A “very prominent attorney in the city” had texted the article to him Monday morning and expressed interest in supporting the project.

He also pointed out that he took then-U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan on a tour of the South Side and encouraged him to help secure the federal funds for the Boys & Girls Clubs project before Bird joined the chapter, and that one of the club’s employees, as cited in the Business Journal article, was involved in early discussions about the project and the role the club could play.

“It sounds like the director of the Boys & Girls Club is dealing with the same type of mentality that has kept our city stifled and not collaborating for generations. It sounds like he’s worried just about his project alone, not the entirety of the city,” Oliver said.

“We’re doing something that doesn’t exist in Youngstown,” he said following the meeting. “In order to build economic development in the city, in order to build community, you’ve got to strengthen the bottom. You’ve got to strengthen the base in order to build up.”

Even if the community center doesn’t go there, the building, which overlooks downtown, is a “prime location for any business,” and he is concerned about it being acquired by a group home, treatment center or other operation that would discourage nearby development. 

Other Items Approved

In separate action, council members approved a renewal to its agreement with the port authority that authorizes it to market and sell city-owned properties. Under the two-year agreement, the port authority would receive a $500 administrative fee and 5% of the transaction price.

“We’re not using it enough. We’re not taking full benefit of it,” Posterli said of the program. “We want to really make sure that we’re engaging them in what we do, especially when these opportunities come up,” as in WRPA’s acquisition of the former McGuffey Plaza property last year. 

Council also approved entering into a professional service agreement with YBI to attract and recruit domestic and international technology startups to promote economic growth and diversity in the city. The $120,000 contract runs through July 31, 2025.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.