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Realty rises to reality



Published: Thu, August 20, 2009 @ 12:01 a.m.
  Realty Tower tour

Bill Sperlazza, Development Project Manager for the Frangos Group, gives a tour of the nearly-completed Realty Tower in downtown Youngstown.

Bill Sperlazza, Development Project Manager for the Frangos Group, gives a tour of the nearly-completed Realty Tower in downtown Youngstown.

  Realty Tour panorama

If this project succeeds, it would lead to other upscale housing downtown, the mayor says.

By DAVID SKOLNICK

CITY HALL REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN — The Realty Tower Apartments has “the potential to be a transformational project for downtown,” Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams says.

The mayor mentioned the 23-unit upscale apartment complex project, expected to be finished by Sept. 1, in the same breath as the Covelli Centre and the reopening of Federal Plaza.

“This is in that league” when talking about important projects that have led to the revitalization of downtown Youngstown, Williams said.

Unlike the Covelli Centre, opened in late 2005, and the reopening of Federal Plaza in late 2004, most of the $8.4 million expense for Realty is coming from a private investor.

The Frangos Group, run by Louis Frangos of Cleveland, will receive $3.41 million in federal and state funding for the rehabilitation of the historic structure sometime after it opens.

Besides a $2 million loan given to Frangos from the city, which must be repaid next month, the company has footed the entire bill for the project so far.

These are tough economic times, but Williams said he’s hopeful this project will succeed.

“We’re not fooling ourselves with the challenges of the economic environment,” he said. “It’s a tough economic and housing market. But there are people out there with the means” to afford Realty’s rent, “who want to live downtown.”

The building, at 47 Central Federal Street in the heart of downtown, has 23 apartments ranging from 1,215 to 2,057 square feet. Rent will range from $1,400 to $2,300 a month.

Two are rented.

“This is part of what’s going on downtown,” said Bill Sperlazza, development project manager for the Frangos Group. “This is a huge part of what’s happening. For downtown Youngstown to go in the right direction, people will want to live down here. This is an important part of the downtown picture.”

While a new concept in Youngstown, turning older vacant buildings into upscale housing facilities has occurred nationwide “as a tool to revitalize downtowns,” said Thomas Finnerty, associate director of Youngstown State University’s Center for Urban Studies.

“Will it succeed here? It will succeed if those who work in downtown want to live in downtown,” Finnerty said. “There is a lot more to do downtown than in years past. Downtown is developing a life. That will help some people decide to live downtown.”

If that works, the success of downtown businesses and housing will feed off each other, Finnerty said.

“With people living downtown, there will be a need for a grocery store,” he said.

Also, if Realty proves to be a success it would lead to other upscale apartment projects in the city’s downtown, Williams and Finnerty said.

“There is a demand for downtown living,” Williams said.

But the future development of downtown housing isn’t based solely on the success or failure of Realty, the mayor said.

“You can’t go that far because of the current economy,” he said.

Realty will be the first upscale housing complex in the city’s downtown.

But there already are a few people living downtown in large, upscale apartments.

Among them is Richard Mills, president of the Ohio One Corp., which owns five downtown buildings.

Mills has lived on the top floor of the four-story Rica Building on Champion Street since 1992. His company owns the building.

“I was living down here before it was chic,” Mills said. “The major thing that irks me is downtown is perceived as unsafe and it’s untrue. It’s safe. I’ve never been robbed.”

Even though Ohio One doesn’t rent space for living downtown, Mills said he gets about 2 to 3 calls a month from people asking if he has apartment space.

Mills expects Realty to be a “great success.”

“Downtown living has been slow coming, but a lot of things in Youngstown are slow in developing,” he said. “No one before Frangos has taken the chance. I think it’s the beginning of downtown housing in Youngstown. There is definitely a market for it. [Living downtown has] certainly worked well for me.”

The Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber is having an after-hours business mixer behind Realty from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. today. The event will include guided tours of the building.

Tickets are $20 for chamber members and $25 for others.

skolnick@vindy.com

SEE ALSO:Historic YW to undergo renovations.


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