By Don Shilling
Business owner considers appeal of order to vacate
The city says the owner of the shop near YSU doesn’t have the needed zoning to expand there.
YOUNGSTOWN — Joseph Grenga is considering whether to keep fighting Youngstown State University’s attempt to take his West Rayen Avenue building for a campus expansion project.
The 80-year-old machine shop owner is convinced the city and university have wronged him by opting to take his property via eminent domain, but he wanted to put off a decision until after Christmas.
He said the building is worth fighting for even though he has used it only to store his industrial equipment for the past seven years.
He operates Grenga Machine and Welding Co. about a mile away on the South Side, and he’d like to begin rebuilding lathes, grinders, drill presses and other equipment at the Rayen Avenue site. His other location on Wayne Avenue is so packed with equipment that he doesn’t have room to work on them, he said.
To retain the Rayen Avenue building, he would have to win an appeal of last week’s decision by Magistrate Dennis Sarisky and Judge James C. Evans, both of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.
Their rulings allowed the city to take the property so Hazel Street could be extended to better connect downtown with the university. The street project is part of the construction of YSU’s new $34 million business school.
Grenga has until Tuesday to appeal.
City officials, however, dispute that Grenga could use the Rayen Avenue building for an expansion of his business, even if he did win the case.
City officials said the property is zoned institutional, but he would need industrial zoning to operate a machine shop or repair machines.
The city’s planning commission is unlikely to approve that zone change, said William D’Avignon, the city’s community development agency director, who runs the planning and zoning department.
An industrial use of the building wouldn’t be in compliance with Youngstown 2010, the city’s development plan, D’Avignon said. The building was used for commercial purposes before Grenga bought it, he said.
“He couldn’t use it as industrial because it was never zoned industrial and was never used as an industrial site,” D’Avignon said. “It was only used for storage, which is permitted there.”
Grenga said he thinks he already has industrial zoning.
On a tour of the building this week with The Vindicator, no electricity or heat was on. In order to navigate his way through the building, Grenga used a flashlight.
In a storage area that is lit with light from windows, Grenga keeps a variety of industrial machines that are lined up tightly next to each other. He said he wants to rebuild and sell some of them and repair others so they could used in his business.
Grenga said he has 10 full-time employees at his South Side machine shop. On a recent visit to the Wayne Avenue building, two employees were fabricating metal spools that Grenga said a customer would use to wind steel into coils.
He said his father, Anthony, started the business in 1933. It’s clear that over the years Grenga has acquired a large number of machines. In addition to a cramped production floor, the business has a large storage room that is packed with a variety of machines designed to cut, shape and drill holes into steel.
Grenga said about half of his company’s revenues come from processing steel products, while the other half is from selling steel rods and shapes to area companies.
To meet his need for more space, Grenga bought the 102-year-old Rayen Avenue building for $95,800 at a sheriff’s sale in 2001. The city offered Grenga $205,000 for the property and has placed that amount in escrow, pending resolution of the case.
Grenga said the offer isn’t enough even though it is more than double what he paid.
He said he mortgaged his Boardman home in order to buy the building and has been paying interest. He also said he has repaired the roof, performed some cement work and painted the area where the machines are stored.
Besides, he just isn’t interested in a sale. In addition to creating an area for rebuilding equipment, he said his plans include putting up a new building in the parking lot and using the building as an office for his company and another owned by a family member.
“I bought it to use it, and I will not give it to YSU,” he said.
XReporter David Skolnick contributed to this story.