A group wants to bring new life to the city by reviving an older neighborhood.
By D.A. WILKINSON
VINDICATOR RELIGION EDITOR
YOUNGSTOWN -- A community project has the potential to revitalize the city economically, culturally and spiritually.
The project is the brainchild of the Rev. John Horner, pastor of St. John's Episcopal Church, and Dr. David Sweet, president of Youngstown State University.
The plan basically calls for the religious, cultural and civic institutions along or near Wick Avenue to help develop the Smoky Hollow area in conjunction with YSU.
While that may not sound like much, Sweet has said the resulting growth can be exponential.
The Rev. Mr. Horner believes it is the first step in the city's revival.
For the past year, the institutions located on or near Wick Avenue have been meeting as the Wick Neighbors, which Mr. Horner expects will incorporate as a nonprofit group.
The idea is to revitalize the downtown cultural area, as was done successfully in Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
At 10 a.m. Thursday, YSU will break ground on two apartment buildings that will house 408 students off Wick Oval. The buildings will cost $22 million. YSU owns that land and most of Smoky Hollow.
What would happen
The Wick Neighbors envisions building apartments or condominiums, stores and other amenities on the remaining land.
That would entice nonstudents -- teachers, empty-nesters and others attracted to urban life -- to move close to the college and the city's major cultural institutions.
"There are almost no people living in the downtown," said Mr. Horner.
As part of the plan, the cultural institutions would coordinate to provide entertainment and other events.
Sweet and many of the members of Wick Neighbors think the plan can help provide the approximately 250 new residents that experts say are needed for revitalization to take off.
YSU and the city of Youngstown are working with Hunter Morrison, Cleveland's former planning director, who directed that city's resurgence. The Wick Neighbors is contemplating hiring a company that had worked with Morrison in Cleveland to advise the group.
Those involved in the Wick Neighbors program agree there is no reason the plan can't work.
H. William Lawson, the director of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society that's part of the talks, said, "It's a no-brainer."
At the heart of that belief is the recognition of the extreme stability of the churches and other organizations in the Wick area. First Presbyterian Church, one of the Wick Neighbors, is the oldest church in the area, dating to 1799.
"We've been here for a hundred years, and we'll be here for another hundred years," Mr. Horner added of St. John's.
Who is involved
In developing the Wick Neighbors, Mr. Horner talked to not only the nearby churches but other nearby entities. In some cases, he said, the various entities in the area didn't know one another.
"We're too isolated, and it's killing us," Mr. Horner said.
Togetherness is also not a forced issue.
Dr. Lou Zona, director of the Butler Institute of American Art, said there is a special feeling along Wick Avenue.
"It is a neighborhood," Zona said.
Coincidentally, the Butler in June plans to break ground on a $900,000 50-seat cafe and expanded gift shop on the west side of the museum. Funding is coming from the Andrews Foundation, Zona said.
The Butler and the historical society often receive funding from private foundations. Should the Wick Neighbors seek financial help, Zona said there was no reason to believe it wouldn't be there.
People are willing to come downtown, said Carlton A. Sears, director of the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County. "And I've got proof," Sears said.
The library is attracting 17,000 to 18,000 people a month from all over, he said. In fact, the library is developing a parking problem, but it owns land to the east that can be developed.
Another asset, Sweet noted, is YSU's ownership of much of the land, much of which is already vacant. Once a project is selected, developers can go to work.
And last but not least, is the spiritual view.
Mr. Horner believes the project "will unlock the hope for city. The way it is now is not the way it ought to be."
But corruption flourished in the isolation, and people in the Valley still seem afraid to dream, said the pastor.
The new plan has much in common with what drove newcomers to Smoky Hollow.
"They came here for a better life. They didn't give up. The future is not a dream," Mr. Horner said.