One downtown monument says goodbye to another

By Todd Franko

The Man on the Monument towers over downtown Youngstown’s Central Square paying honor to the men of the Mahoning Valley who died in the “war of the rebellion” — the Civil War.

Under his northern gaze stands a different monument.

That monument is testament to the labor and patience a community exerts in its relationship with deep- pocket developers who hold the promise of better days — but only on their calendar and budget.

“The Scaffolding” is that other monument.

It has graced the National City Bank Building in the downtown’s north end for about 18 months.

And whereas “Man” protected the Northern states from Southern hostilities, “Scaffolding” protected Youngstown pedestrians from the potential of falling granite.

Happily, “Scaffolding” will soon disappear thanks in part to wars not on fields but on Wall Street — a corporate bank takeover.

Thank you, PNC Bank. You know not what you did to rid us of this monument.

Truth be told: Were it not for PNC’s purchase of National City Bank, we could have been staring at the scaffolding until another civil war.

The scaffolding’s presence is an exhausting tale of a community tainted due to two bickering companies. It also showcases the tightrope, as one city official put it, that a city walks with its most promising building owners.

When the swirling winds of the remnants of Hurricane Katrina swung north in 2005, the gusts tugged at the granite panels on the National City Bank Building — sending two of them to the ground. Three years later, the city became aware of the incident after representatives for the building’s owners, Park South Development of New York City, contacted the city about erecting safety scaffolding.

The three-year gap between the panels’ falling and the scaffolding’s rising is some cause for concern.

But local Park South official Anita Atheneos said at no time was there a known threat to the pedestrian area. The panels fell off the west face of the building and fell onto the roof of a lower part of the building. That area was immediately secured, and negotiations with insurers began in terms of paying for the damage.

As part of that insurance process, engineers discovered in 2007 that “wind fatigue” throughout the structure made it impossible to tell what panels could fall next. It was that opinion that led to “The Scaffolding” creation in spring 2008. And that insurance process is where the center of our downtown remains handcuffed today.

Park was given 180 days to fix the building in May 2008. It was granted another 180 days this past June. That period was ending in November and appeared headed for another extension before PNC’s entry.

In cases of extensions, reasonable progress must be shown to the city in order to extend the remedy period.

The holdup was because Park South and its insurance company, The Cincinnati Insurance Co., are embroiled in a lawsuit over payment for the facade damages. A mediation session for last spring was scheduled, then canceled by Cincinnati. It was set for trial this fall.

There was no reasonable progress, and Park South’s attorney was rather pointed about the stalemate.

“The length of time the scaffolding has been erected,” wrote attorney Dimitrios Pousoulides, “is simply a byproduct of the insurance company refusing to make payments ... and the time it takes our court system to address these matters.”

Pousoulides said Friday a trial date is now set for Dec. 1.

Having been given the slip by an insurance company or two, I have some understanding for what Park is enduring.

But in this era of cost recoveries and such, surely what is being done now could have been done right from the start: Fix the facade. Lump the cost into the lawsuit. One of the two parties was going to end up with the cost anyway. Let the court decide.

In a battle of big pockets, it’s no stunner that it was another big pocket — PNC — that finally brought an end to “The Scaffolding.”

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