Most people polled favor reopening the whole street.
By ROGER G. SMITH
CITY HALL REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- There is much more to reopening Federal Street downtown than just deciding between an intersection or a traffic circle.
People who've chimed in want the city to consider a range of changes from what's proposed.
Diagonal parking on the street, eliminating a median, more public space, a sprinkler system and heated sidewalks are all among the suggestions.
Most people, from business leaders to average folks, who sent comments to the city before last week's deadline or to The Vindicator favor reopening the whole street. Keeping the one-block amphitheater is the other proposal.
Not for everyone: Not all are in favor, however. Diana Murar of Youngstown works downtown and likes walking under the plaza's tree canopy.
"It will break my heart to see all those trees butchered and forever gone," she told the city.
People are more divided over how to reopen the plaza. Options are an intersection with signals or a traffic circle where Market Street and Wick Avenue meet and cross Federal Street.
"These circles cause unnecessary problems for small towns, let along a city with as much traffic as Youngstown," said Sherry K. George, no address available, in a letter to city council.
Suzanne E. Marshall Jones of Youngstown disagrees. She works downtown and likes the circle idea. She told the city there isn't enough traffic for a circle to create problems. John P. Brown III of Boardman likes the circle, too. He told the city such a setup offers more opportunity for natural public space.
"Youngstown needs a green and safe area," he told the city.
A circle creates a public gathering spot, said Scott Schulick of Youngstown. He heads Streetscape, a group of volunteers who plant flowers around downtown each year. He and a few others suggest the city install a sprinkler-type system to keep new landscaping healthy.
A recent Vindicator Web poll showed the 138 votes split evenly between the two traffic options.
No more median: A landscaped median, like the one dividing an open section of Federal Street now, is important to some -- to get rid of -- because of parking.
Mary Krupa of Youngstown wants the median scrapped from the proposed plans and diagonal spaces to replace parallel parking.
More cars can park on Federal Street and it's easier to maneuver if the spaces are diagonal, she told the city. Parallel parking is harder, especially for many senior citizens, and it ties up traffic, Krupa said.
Federal Street should go back to the way it was in the old, pre-plaza days, she said.
"I don't think Youngstown would like something 'different' in this spot because it's sick and tired of the 'different' approach implemented in the 1970s," she said.
Several people with direct stakes downtown agree.
Dr. Fredric D'Amato, an ophthalmologist whose office is in the Metropolitan Tower Building, said trimming back sidewalks, no median and diagonal parking all would give retail a fighting chance.
Most consider retail dead for downtowns, but not Dr. D'Amato. He owns a building on the plaza that used to be a shoe store. The franchise was profitable but left because deliveries were hard to make without access, he said.
The median lends no aesthetic value, he said, while a wide street would bring vibrancy back to downtown.
Gary Roberts, president of Metropolitan Bank, also advocates narrowing sidewalks, no median and diagonal parking.
"This is the core of the downtown area," he told the city. "Let form follow function."
Public space: A few people, such as associate city planner Anthony Kobak, want the Federal Street project to better factor in public space.
Kobak's idea creates large corners where Market and Wick meet and would cross Federal.
One corner would have tables and chairs that visitors and downtown workers could use. Another would be the place to relocate displaced monuments. A third corner would have a small stage for performers and a grassy area. The last would be a natural space with trees and landscaping.
Usage for the next 50 years -- not today's concerns about parking or loitering -- should be the project's focus, he said.
Several public officials and major downtown property owners like his plan. Endorsements include nods from Jay Williams, the city's Community Development Agency director; Joseph R. McRae, city parks director; Rich Mills, who own several office buildings; and USA Parking, which owns several parking lots and buildings.
The eastern Ohio chapter of the American Institute of Architects, which represents about 70 professionals in the three-county area, has several suggestions.
Unique among them is installing sidewalks with heating elements. The city could recoup the cost through savings on snow and ice removal and repairs due to salt damage, the group said.
Members expressed concern about lack of public space in the plan, but consider a traffic circle a nuisance. A median should be kept and repairing the amphitheater should be bid as an option, they added.
Then again, maybe any design decision is premature, said Virginia A. Miller of Youngstown.
The plaza should remain until the studies are done on traffic flow downtown factoring in the proposed civic center, she said. Long-range planning, not opinion, should be the focus, Miller said.
"Hold off doing anything until we know what we are doing," she said.