About 1,500 acres of brownfields have been redeveloped in Youngstown.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Looking back at the city's purchase of abandoned steel industrial sites more than a decade ago, former Mayor Pat Ungaro remembers the skeptics.
"I got a lot of criticism at the time," he said of the beginnings of the city's brownfields redevelopment and industrial diversification efforts in the late 1980s and early 1990s. "But those sites have generated a lot of cash for the city."
And about $1 billion in total economic development, according to city officials.
"We didn't wait for something to happen," said Ungaro, mayor from 1984 to 1998. "The key for us was to buy the land and work the development after that. I think we were 25 years ahead of our time."
For Youngstown, just as it has happened in Pittsburgh, Cleveland and other Rust Belt cities, that two-pronged approach has been critical in trying to rebound from the loss of industries that gave the areas their identities. The Mahoning Valley lost an estimated 29,000 manufacturing jobs between 1977 and 1983.
Current Youngstown Mayor George McKelvey said an important step for the city was realizing that replacing one major employer with another wasn't going to happen.
"We had to realize that the steel industry wasn't going to come back to the Mahoning Valley," he said. "Our first mistake would be to sit here for 10 or 15 years with a 'woe is me' attitude. And the probability of getting something of the magnitude of a Lordstown was pretty small."
Instead the city moved toward replacing the abandoned steel sites with smaller businesses and industries, attracting them with incentives such as 10-year tax abatements, city-supported grants and indemnification against liability for environmental problems that might exist on the sites.
Ungaro said many of the steel companies cooperated in the tear-down and cleanup of the old sites.
In their place now stand some examples of small-industry redevelopment, part of a total of 1,500 acres that were formerly brownfields, according to David Bozanich, finance director for Youngstown. He's worked closely over the years with the city's economic development office on these projects.
He cited the example of the former Ohio Works plant of U.S. Steel in the northwest part of the city, which is now a business park, a term now replacing the old industrial park in economic development usage.
Still under development, it's home to six projects on 140 acres and is projected to employ about 5,000 people.
Other diversification efforts have included the following:
U The Salt Spring Road Industrial Park, which is home to Graybar Electric, and a Toys "R" Us distribution center, among other companies;
U Performance Place, a former LTV steel mill site which includes Exal Corp., a Spanish company which makes aluminum bottles and employs 300 people.
U A Corrections Corporation of America prison located on a 134-acre former brownfield site.
"They're viable sites," Bozanich said. "The infrastructure is often there already, and we've provided development grants where they had more infrastructure needs."
McKelvey said that the city has developed nearly all its former brownfields sites. "The key is aggressiveness and a willingness to use a disadvantage as an advantage," he said.
Youngstown has been cited by national organizations, including the U.S. Council of Mayors, for its redevelopment efforts.
Elsewhere along the natural corridor of the Mahoning River, there are still challenges, as about 1,400 acres of brownfields remain in the Struthers-Campbell-Lowellville area on the former sites of Youngstown Sheet & amp; Tube Co. and Republic Steel.
CASTLO Community Improvement Corp., a business park at the eastern edge of the brownfield, has received grants for assessment and cleanup of land in the park near Campbell.
The Mahoning River Corridor of Opportunity (MRCO), a cooperative effort of Struthers, Campbell and Youngstown, is looking at ways to accelerate the progress in cleaning up and developing the area.