City seeks extension of services for tenants
Mahoning Valley Hospital also is negotiating an agreement for maintenance services at Oakhill.
By DEBORA SHAULIS
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- City officials are asking utility companies for a 30-day extension of services at Oakhill Renaissance Place to give tenants more time to relocate.
"The city isn't the Messiah in this," said Jason Whitehead, chief of staff to Mayor Jay Williams. "If we can buy everyone time, we're hoping we'll be able to at least offer some options for them," including finding new locations.
Oakhill's tenants, including Youngstown Health Department, were told last week to prepare for the building's closing as early as Sunday.
Meanwhile, Mahoning Valley Hospital has reached an agreement in principle with Sodexho Inc., which provides maintenance, environmental and other services at Oakhill. The agreement will begin Monday and is being sought "because of our interest in protecting our patients," said Michael Senchak, the hospital's chief executive officer.
The complex at 345 Oak Hill Ave. is the former Forum Health Southside Medical Center. A nonprofit, volunteer organization called Southside Community Development Corporation was created in 1998 to convert the building into a community hub as part of South Side revitalization.
Forum Health has stopped subsidizing Oakhill's operations and is responsible for $1.9 million of a $2 million development loan that SCDC recently defaulted on, according to hospital officials.
Forum Health expects to lose $60 million this year unless a radical restructuring occurs and unionized employees agree to $25 million in concessions.
Utility providers are cooperating, and Whitehead said he hopes agreements will be finalized by the time Oakhill tenants meet at noon Friday. Tenants also organized a meeting Monday to discuss their options, including a possible deadline extension.
The city health department will not move out of Oakhill this weekend. Its new location hasn't been finalized, and a lease needs to be worked out. "We couldn't turn it around that quickly," Whitehead said.
Working on relocation
Whitehead has been talking to real estate agents about helping other agencies to relocate. The city-owned former Phar-Mor Building on West Federal Street "is definitely an option" for tenants, he added, although it's unclear what the others have paid in rent at Oakhill. "We're assuming it's below market value," he said.
If an extension is announced Friday, it will still be too late for some offices. "They're going to have to move. If they have a place to go, it makes sense to transition out," Whitehead said.
Illa Willis, owner of a home health-care business call CI Healthcare Inc., plans to move out of her suite by Sunday. She's moving to a Market Street location in Boardman. She feels lucky because she's getting nearly the same amount of space at nearly the same monthly rent, she said.
Having to move suddenly is difficult, but "It's not [Hurricane] Katrina. That's been my motto since Katrina," Willis said.
Willis opened her business in July 2004. She wishes she could have kept her headquarters in the city, since that's where many clients live, but she did what she could on short notice, she said.
Willis also cited a Christian belief that when God closes one door, another opens.
Staff at Protestant Family Services didn't want to comment, but they were clearly packing in preparation for a move.