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The challenge of redesigning Youngstown

Published: Sun, March 14, 2010 @ 12:01 a.m.

Related story:As downtown rebirth continues, activists lobby for neighborhoods.




This is supposed to be a big year for the city and its mayor.

Mayor Jay Williams was one of the main architects of the city’s Youngstown 2010 plan.

Here we are in Youngstown in the year 2010.

The plan, unveiled Dec. 16, 2002, has been profiled in numerous publications worldwide as a model for what an industrial city with a declining population should do.

The plan’s creators describes it as the “guiding document that sets out a framework for understanding and addressing the issues” facing the city.

Williams’ close association to the plan was a key factor in his 2005 mayoral election.

So how has the first 21⁄2 months of this important year been for Youngstown?

“It’s been my most challenging period of time,” Williams said. “The first two-plus months have brought the full range of emotions that one could expect serving two full terms [eight years] sitting in this office. This has been enough to shave a few years off your life if you look at it one way and enough to add a few years if you look at it from another way from the perspective of the mayor.”

Among the low points:

Homicides are up in 2010 compared to previous years. Angeline Fimognari, an 80-year-old parishioner at St. Dominic Church on the South Side, was murdered in the church’s parking lot after leaving an early morning Mass on Jan. 23. Her death attracted national media attention.

The Jan. 14 rejection of a $32.4 million proposal for federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program funds that would have been used to demolish and rehabilitate houses in nine Mahoning Valley communities.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development rejected the plan, spearheaded by Youngstown, because the city’s application “failed to show [it] had the capacity and ability to carry out the proposal.”

An armed robbery of $80,000 from the food and beverage vendor at the city-owned Covelli Centre in broad daylight Jan. 26.

State Rep. Robert F. Hagan assaulted at a downtown restaurant and bar Jan. 6.

Financial woes leaves the city looking at a $2.5 million general fund deficit for the year.

The city won’t fund recreational programs and won’t provide money to operate its golf course and two pools in budget-cutting measures. The city is looking for outside vendors to take over those responsibilities. Also, deeper cuts need to be made to balance the budget.

The uncertainty of Forum Health in the city. The health organization employs about 1,400 at Forum Health Northside Medical Center.

There were also “exhilarating highs” so far this year, Williams said:

V&M Star announcing Feb. 15 it will build a $650 million expansion project that will employ 400 construction workers. The company expects to hire 350 people when the project is finished. It is the largest economic investment in the city’s history.

“That announcement defines what 2010 was all about: regional collaboration and Youngstown in the regional and global economic markets,” Williams said. “It sends a message to the world that this is a place to do business.”

VXI Global Solutions adding 200 jobs by May to its call center in the city-owned 20 Federal Place. The company already employs 450 workers at the downtown building.

Revere Data relocated a research center from New Delhi, India, to the recently renovated Semple Building on West Federal Street, part of the city’s Tech Block.

A financial improvement at the Covelli Centre, which is drawing large crowds for events at the facility.

“We’re a city of extremes,” Williams said.

While Williams said “2010 was always intended to be a journey and not a destination,” the year has importance.

“We wanted to redefine what this city could do” by 2010, he said. “We decided that we’d use this vision and plan to operate the city.”

Youngstown 2010 included plans for each of the city’s 31 neighborhoods. Progress in improving many of those neighborhoods is either slow going or nonexistent.

“The neighborhoods didn’t deteriorate over the course of five or 10 years,” Williams said. “This is a 20-year, 30-year decline in some of these neighborhoods so if the transformation is 10 or 15 or 20 years, we’re still ahead of the game. It’s always easier to tear down and decline than it is to build back up.”

There are more active neighborhood groups now than there have been in years in the city, Williams said.

Also, the demolition of more than 2,000 vacant structures, most of them residential houses, helps transform neighborhoods, he said.

Williams points to the Idora Park area, the Wick Park neighborhood, and to several communities on the city’s West Side as areas making improvements with active citizen participation.

As for a few of the low points during the first 21⁄2 months of the year, Williams said some good came out of them.

The Fimognari murder “was a national story that had the potential to really define this city,” he said. “However, the response from the parishioners is more of the defining element than the heinous crime itself. That doesn’t diminish the anguish and pain of the murder of Angeline Fimognari and the absolute anger at the suspect to commit that depravity. But how do you derive more inspiration than to hear those parishioners and see them remain steadfast in their determination” to continue worshipping at the church.

Also the Hagan assault could have hurt the reputation of downtown, Williams said.

But Hagan forgave the man who hit him at the Lemon Grove Cafe and Lounge as well as insist that the incident was isolated and downtown is a safe place. That diffused that situation, the mayor said.

“I think people will look at it in its context,” Williams said. “When I go through downtown I see more diversity than I’ve seen in the life that I’ve spent here.”

There’s still a lot to learn and plenty of room for improvement, but Williams said he’s optimistic that the city will progress in this all-important year and into the future.

Williams stresses that for Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley to advance in the future there must be collaboration.

The mayor’s goals for this year include:

Assisting organizations that are working to improve various neighborhoods throughout the city.

Obtaining major “investments from the federal government or national foundations” to help Youngstown tackle the issues of vacant property and economic development.

Focusing on regionalization efforts to improve the Valley’s economy.

As for the mayor’s goals for this decade, he has high ones.

“I want 2010 to 2020 to be remembers as Youngstown’s renaissance,” he said.

That would include:

Creating strong neighborhoods.

Developing a diverse economic base.

A strong school system that provides an education as strong as the best urban school districts.

A reduction in crime.

“We’ve made some inroads in the past decade,” Williams said. “I’d like to see them finalized. I believe everything I talked about is achievable over the next 10 years.”

YOUNGSTOWN 2010 goals

The Youngstown 2010 plan, approved by city council in 2003, described a vision for the city’s future. Here are some of the key elements of the plan and the city’s progress.

Viable neighborhoods. The city, along with community planning organizations and neighborhood associations, is working to improve certain parts of Youngstown. The city has demolished more than 2,000 properties, most of them vacant houses in neighborhoods, but more work needs to be done to improve the various sections of Youngstown.

A vibrant downtown. The downtown has seen major improvements in the number of businesses, restaurants, bars and entertainment venues.

Reusing old industrial brownfield sites for new green businesses. The city has attracted several businesses to its industrial and business parks, but most of them wouldn’t be considered green businesses.

Improve the city’s education system. The city has the worst public school system in Ohio, according to the state Department of Education report card.

Define Youngstown’s role in the new regional economy with a focus on the health care sector, industrial clusters and the arts community. The city could lose 1,400 health care workers if the bankrupt Forum Health closes the Northside Health Center, the city has seen a number of its industrial businesses expand, most notably the recent announcement by V&M Star that it’s planning a $650 million expansion. The arts community has grown with an expansion of the Butler Institute of American Art, the opening of the $45 million city-owned Covelli Centre in 2005, and downtown bars and restaurants focusing on music, entertainment and the arts.

Connecting downtown to Youngstown State University. The city is extending Hazel Street to connect downtown to YSU’s Williamson College of Business Administration, which is under construction.

Sources: Youngstown 2010 plan, Vindicator files


1UnionForever(1470 comments)posted 6 years, 3 months ago

How come most people in Youngstown are not feeling the Youngstown 2010 Plan? People are scared to be on the streets. An old lady gets shot coming out of mass by a gangsta hoodlum who now control the streets rather then the police. The unemployment rate is the highest in the state for cities and very few propsects for new good paying jobs anywhere to be found. There are more abandoned houses then ever. Taxes are too high and city services too expensive. Mayor Jay has failed the challenge, but then what would you expect from a so called Independent who thinks like a DEMOCROOK?

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2Letstryagain(218 comments)posted 6 years, 3 months ago

Most people? For whom do you speak? Did a majority of some organized group elect you to pronounce the feeling of "most people"? If so you should be courteous enough to let us know who you represent.

Speaking of being courteous, you should also call the murder victim by her name, it is in the article you are making a comment about, it is Angeline Fimognari.

In the past three weeks the Mahoning Valley residents have learned of a large number of good paying jobs that will be available over the course of many months. In addition, the construction of industrial manufacturing space will provide tradesmen with employment.

The city taxes are to high, and may discourge some economic growth within the city. That is a tough problem, and will not be resolved until the city is able to increase its revenue to the general fund. .

As far as Mayor Williams is concerned, if that is who you were referring to by Mayor Jay, he ran without the endorsement of the Democratic or Republican Party, that makes him an independent, and does not preclude him from endorsing candidates running for office that are not independents. I would challenge you to find a more proactive Mayor of Youngstown in the last 40 years, or one that has brought more foresight and vision to the problems of Youngstown. Shrinking the city, and making derelict space, commercial and residential, usable again is right on the money.

As he mentined in the article, the recovery will take a long time. For what he has started, I say job well done!

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3pindrop(21 comments)posted 6 years, 3 months ago

Very well said, Letstryagain.

With all the turmoil in this town it is hard to remain optimistic however it is not fair to point fingers without facts and/or empirical research data.

We can not expect a miracle without putting forth some effort and support.

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4Stan(9923 comments)posted 6 years, 3 months ago

It's time to cut the discharge of bull scat into the atmosphere of the city . Crime is out of control with not enough being done to curtail it . The chronic unemployed with nothing better to do are creating mass mayhem . So this is the UTOPIA OF 2010 ? Lets put them to work at low tech jobs and cut down on their 24/7 idle time which they are using to destroy the city .

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5Tigerlily(509 comments)posted 6 years, 3 months ago

applause applause, GoNEO, pindrop and Letstryagain. Well said.

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6Stan(9923 comments)posted 6 years, 3 months ago


"As soon as I read this article I knew the tag team of Union Forever and Stan would drop in to dump on the mayor and the city."

To crow at the crack of dawn is fine and dandy but unless you destroy the weasel it will destroy those in the henhouse .

The productive in Youngstown don't deserve being preyed upon by the criminal element who has 24/7 idle time to do so . Our mayor who is doing a lot of crowing has forgotten the plight of those who pay taxes .

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7ricnsherri(41 comments)posted 6 years, 3 months ago

Look at the 2010 plan. How many neighborhoods have active groups? Landlords/investors are accountable for their businesses. The problem properties in the neighborhoods are the tens of thousands of properties that have negotiated sold tax liens, the foreclosed properties. Who are accountable for these properties? How will these properties be brought up to code? These properties are the real blight in the neighborhoods. These properties are creating the investors investments to decline. The negotiated sold tax lien properties are the blight in the neighborhoods. Just as the city has collaborated with businesses such as V&M Star, VXI Global Solutions and Revere Data, the city and the landlords/investors need to find ways to work together. Again, as investors, landlords are accountable for their investments but who is accountable for properties that have a negotiated sold tax lien?

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8Stan(9923 comments)posted 6 years, 3 months ago


"Stan, it's easy to criticize the mayor but given the limited resources at his disposal, what do you suggest he do differently? "

Get the riff-raff to do community service doing cleanup at the wastewater treatment plant for starters when they are sentenced . Plenty of other chores around the city also abound . Next step is to lure a company to Youngstown with lots of low tech manufacturing jobs . We have the human resources to supply several such companies with manpower .

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9Stan(9923 comments)posted 6 years, 3 months ago



I am sure that community service is not against the law and should be implemented in rebuilding the city . The recent success of Jamar Houser and others to kill proves that we are regressing and not progressing .

Again, the mayor's crowing is very impressive but more can and should be done .

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10Rokscout(310 comments)posted 6 years, 3 months ago

Sure, chain gangs may be against some law, but so should draining all of our tax dollars by sitting around collecting the numerous welfare type funds that are just handed out to those driving their big S.U.V.s and getting their hair done. All the while, their many offspring are out doing crimes and destroying what a FEW of us are working for. Simple concept, you get paid by the government, you will work, you will do something. No contribution, no money. That should clean the city up, or scare some of the derelicts away.

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11northsideart(111 comments)posted 6 years, 3 months ago

When they say that Hagan "forgave" the guy that punched him, does that mean that the charges have been dropped?

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12Owlguin(50 comments)posted 6 years, 3 months ago

I've seen the 2010 plan. Now I would like to see an analysis of how well it worked, and a new 2020 plan. I personaly think the 2010 plan focused on fixing the symptoms and fell far short of fixing the major problem in the community, which is lack of business & industry (JOBS!). While the V&M deal is great, Youngstown doen't need more call center jobs. They need the school system and YSU to step up and assure there is a properly educated workforce, then they need to compete to attract jobs by offering incentives and focusing on Youngstown's strengths. You'll just keep knocking down houses until there are jobs to help people keep the houses.

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13Owlguin(50 comments)posted 6 years, 3 months ago

I'm trying not to focus on the negative....if we try to fix the neighborhoods and the homeowners don't have jobs to keep them up, and there are so many idle hands out there with nothing to do but start trouble, we've gotten nowhere. YTown needs to get companies in there with incentives and stop creating excuses. There are major strengths - like a centralized location for transportation, an airport that can take the largest freight aircraft, a housing market that is as cheap as anywhere in the US, even in the niceset areas of YTown and vicinity. YTown has a great park system and an urban University (although they need to ugrade their acedemics). Cheap, cheap land costs and a labor force in waiting. Downside? YTown competes against and is losing out to areas that offer tax incentives and have lower taxes and better education systems. YTown has built a reputation of supporting a very strong and stubborn labor union contingent which really scares away large companies. I'm not saying that labor unions are bad, you just need to understand what you are really up against to compete. Believe me, if a company can make it work for less and avoid labor problems, the inner city bad neighborhoods won't deter them.

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14Letstryagain(218 comments)posted 6 years, 3 months ago

Take all the 9.00/hr call center jobs we can get. It sets a base for wages. Once all the people that can be employed are working for $9.00 an hour, then a new job will have to pay more than $9.00 hr.

They sure aren't the manufacturing jobs of 30 years ago, but they are important, and they do contribute. Remember, all the people making $20 hr can't support the city services without those making less and more paying their taxes as well. Everyone contributes, we as a community are not in a position to dictate the jobs we are willing to accept, but that does not mean we should not try to get the ones we want.

Stan - I agree more can and should be done. The more comes from building on past success. Just like a sports team, momentum is so important and without it initiative dies. We need people to help keep the initiative going.

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15positivechange(4 comments)posted 6 years, 3 months ago

Our cities need to embrace the investors/landlords who are investing in the cities. We need to work together, the investors and the city departments, to make our cities a better place to live and to raise our families. Investors are part of the solution to the problems we face in our crime ridden cities. We can do this when we collaborate and work together. The Organizers are doing a fine job helping the neighborhoods organize. The Organizers and the city officials need to be working positively with the investors who are investing in the neighborhoods. What percentages of the houses are non-owner occupied in Youngstown and Warren, 50%, 60% 70%?

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16walter_sobchak(2672 comments)posted 6 years, 3 months ago

The city needs to do something about the deadbeat landlords that rent the ratholes in the city. ANd enforce the codes for the rental units. That would be a good start. Then, they have to do something about the 2.75% income tax. A full-time employee, earning $9/hr, in the city will pay over $500 to Y-town in income taxes. ANd for that $500 the employee gets.......

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