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Young execs aim for change



Published: Wed, August 15, 2007 @ 2:00 a.m.

Mayor Jay Williams, 35, says he considers himself part of the ‘youth movement.’

By ANGIE SCHMITT

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN — Accountant Mike Latessa, 27, architect Paul Hagman, 24, and Mahoning County Courthouse assignment officer Phil Kidd, 28, say they all want the same thing: to make their homes in downtown Youngstown.

It’s that desire that inspired their opposition to a city plan to rebuild West Federal Street, trading tree-lined medians for additional parking, they said.

“We want [Federal Street] to be a comfortable place to sit and eat your lunch,” said Hagman.

When a public meeting regarding the project was announced for Aug. 8, the three began planning a demonstration of their opposition:

UKidd used his Web site, defend-youngstown.com, and the e-mail list it has helped him develop, to inform as many as 10,000 people of the issue and the meeting date, he said.

ULatessa organized the group’s petition effort. He linked the document to defendyoungstown.com and other pro-Youngstown blogs.

UHagman co-authored an eight-page “critique” of the city’s plan. It was distributed to everyone who attended Monday’s meeting as well as posted in the blogs.

The effort resulted in attendance levels reported at between 100 and 200, a petition signed by 700 and a report that analyzed the city’s plan point-by-point. The group’s “critique” not only elaborated on the aesthetic value of the trees, but called into question the West Federal Street plan’s landscaping layout and benefit for pedestrians.

Just the beginning

Because of the display, the city is now revisiting its $500,000 project, due to go out for bid this week, said Mayor Jay Williams.

“It was an event that proved, definitively, that the renewed and growing support for the city of Youngstown is more than just buzz,” defendyoungstown.com said in a post last week. “It is a highly informed, motivated and organized conglomeration of folks from diverse professional and personal backgrounds.”

But West Federal Street is just the beginning, say Kidd, Latessa and Hagman.

Young professionals intend to have their voices heard on any future issue that affects their vision for downtown, said Hagman.

“We are going to set the bar as far as what can be done” in Youngstown, said Kidd.

For a blueprint, Kidd, Latessa, Hagman and their supporters have a 30-page study conducted by the Mahoning Valley Professional 20/30 Club and the United Way. Released in June, the study looks at “Brain Drain,” or the loss of young, well-educated workers, in the Mahoning Valley.

An ideal environment for young college graduates, according to the report, contains “vibrant nightlife, cafes, sidewalk musicians and small galleries and bistros.” Study authors say the setting isn’t as far-removed from Youngstown as one might expect.

City’s potential

Empty buildings and warehouses present an opportunity for revitalization, the report said; the infrastructure for rebuilding is already in place.

Kidd, Latessa and Hagman each say the city’s potential, and apparent emerging revival, was a factor in their decisions to begin their careers in Youngstown, while many of their peers set off for larger cities.

Kidd, a Pittsburgh native, came to the city to study criminal justice at Youngstown State University. He finished his education at North Georgia College and State University. Upon his graduation, however, it was Youngstown’s charms that called his name.

Meanwhile, Latessa considered leaving the city for “100 different schools” before attending YSU. While enrolled, the South Side native said, “I began to develop a better sense of community, and it began to change my mind.”

Hagman earned both his undergraduate degree and his master’s at Kent State University. Also from the South Side, he completed a portion of his graduate study in Europe. But he wanted a city he could make a mark on.

“Right now, Youngstown’s primed for change,” he said, “and it’s the right size for individual voices to make a difference.”

Groups and blogs

Each young man decided to make his home in the Youngstown metro area.

Now, like a growing list of their contemporaries, they’re trying to make it better.

Latessa started by co-founding the young professional club in 2003. The group is now 130 strong, emphasizing long-term commitment to the Valley.

Kidd started his blog site in 2005, inspired by the Youngstown 2010 city planning process and his participation in Williams’ campaign for mayor.

Promoting Youngstown and progressive change, it has spurred offshoots from shoutyoungstown.blog-spot.com to ytownrenaissance.-blogspot.com.

“It’s like a groundswell,” said Kidd. “We’re not exactly sure what it is, but we know it’s very powerful, very diverse and very unified.”

Bloggers share content and link to one another’s sites. More importantly, the sites connect like-minded individuals.

Kidd met Hagman through the site.

Latessa and Kidd had known each other from their years at YSU.

“We realized we were good compliments for each other,” said Hagman.

“We each had a special background, and we each felt the same way about Youngstown, which is: No matter what it becomes, we want to be part of it.”

Politically active

But Kidd said local 20-somethings don’t just want a livable downtown. They want an open channel of communication with local government. They want their input to be taken seriously, he said.

Many politically active young Valley residents already meet regularly with local officials from the mayor to Community Development Director Bill D’Avignon. They call their loosely organized discussion group Thinkers and Drinkers.

It’s a concept Williams said he welcomes. The 35-year-old mayor, who recently started his own blog, said he considers himself part of the “youth movement.” He said he’d eventually like to take up residence downtown himself.

“The fact that 100 or so people were packed in a standing-room-only room, I’d much rather have that than a project that we’re begging people to participate in,” he said of Monday’s meeting.

Statements like Williams’ are the true victory for Kidd.

“We’re excited in a sense that we’ve finally got to a place where we want to be with the city,” he said.


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