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Bridge dedication ceremony closes gap between area's past and future



Published: Sat, August 13, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The federal transportation bill provides $1.6M for road development.

By DON SHILLING

VINDICATOR BUSINESS EDITOR

On Sept. 19 -- the 28th anniversary of Black Monday -- a group of former Steelworkers will take a walk back in time.

They will be the first to use the new $3.5 million Walton Avenue bridge that crosses the Mahoning River into the largely abandoned land that used to be home to the fiery, smoke-belching mills of Youngstown Sheet & amp; Tube and other steelmakers.

The bridge dedication ceremony will be significant, area officials say, because it shows that payoff is near for the years spent studying how to develop 1,400 industrial acres in Youngstown, Struthers and Campbell.

Not only has the bridge been built, but $1.4 million in environmental studies have been done, and $1.6 million has been secured for road work.

"I expect that next year, development will start on this acreage," said Struthers Mayor Dan Mamula.

With pending development of the land, officials want to salute the region's past.

The mills that were the backbone of the local economy began to crumble on Black Monday -- Sept. 19, 1977 -- when Sheet & amp; Tube announced it was moving its headquarters to Indiana and laying off 5,000 local Steelworkers. The mills along the river used to employ 20,000 workers.

Having Steelworkers walk across the bridge first provides a tribute to them and to the mills, Mamula said.

"We acknowledge it. We respect it, and now let's see what we can do now," he said.

Connecting both sides

The bridge is key to moving on, said Campbell Mayor Jack Dill.

Now, the only access to much of the land on the north side of the river is over an old, one-lane bridge that's reached by a gravel road behind the Bob Cene baseball complex in Struthers.

It's difficult to attract companies when they see that transportation system, Dill said. Now, a half-dozen small companies operate in the area, including Casey Equipment Corp.

Much of the land on that side of the river is in Campbell, which has been in financial distress.

"This bridge means more to Campbell than anyone else," Dill said. "Struthers has a tax base. They have business areas. We're really hoping that this is our tax base."

The Mahoning River Corridor of Opportunity, the volunteer board that is pushing development of the area, assembled federal, state and county money for the bridge, which connects to Poland Avenue.

Building new roads

Next up is the construction of roads to run off the bridge.

The board credits U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, for obtaining $1.6 million for the road improvements in the federal transportation bill passed two weeks ago. The board is working to use that money as matching funds for various state road and economic development programs.

"I think we can at least double or triple that money," Mamula said.

Besides working on roads, Mamula said he would like to see some money go for the study of a new Interstate 680 interchange at Shirley Road. Eventually, he also would like to see another bridge built to replace the one-lane span.

"We will keep chasing money," he said.

Some building construction also should occur next year, he said.

Land acquisition

Astro Shapes, an aluminum extruder in downtown Struthers, wants to expand. The city and the company have an agreement under which the city used state funds to acquire land for $250,000 from Ohio Central Railroad. The city plans to turn it over to a development company operated by Astro Shapes.

The city already has used $230,000 in state funds to study the site and hopes to hear this month on its request for $600,000 to clean it up. The site, which used to be a Coke plant, contains 47 acres, although only 34 can be developed.

On its side of the river, Campbell has been trying to get the land at the foot of the new bridge ready for development. It used state funds for an initial environmental study of 36 acres and has a request pending for $270,000 to complete the study.

Also, CASTLO Community Improvement Corp., which operates an industrial park in Struthers, used state funds this year to clean up 45 acres, which are now ready for development, and to conduct an environmental assessment on 80 other acres.

Fixer-uppers

Of the total site, almost all of the land is in the control of private landowners, and the MRCO board is at the stage where it needs more input from them, Mamula said.

"We need to know exactly what they need," he said.

For example, the area has electricity, water and sewer, but the public officials want to make sure these utilities are in the right places.

The MRCO board paid for a master plan to determine which areas will be the least costly to clean up and redevelop. Some areas -- such as a concrete vault that contains asbestos -- will be left as green space.

Mamula said he hopes the construction of the bridge and the pending road work and Astro Shapes expansion will show the community that years of planning and studying are paying off.

"When dealing with brownfield redevelopment, an exorbitant amount of time and energy are needed to get it ready before any construction can start," he said.

shilling@vindy.com




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