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Belmont Ave. business boom continues in Liberty

Published: Thu, August 18, 2011 @ 12:02 a.m.

By Robert Guttersohn



When Juan Vasquez looked to build his own restaurant away from the many Mexican ones that already populate the Cleveland region, he sought an area devoid of Mexican food.

His cousin-in-law, who lives in the township, recommended Vasquez scope out Belmont Avenue in Liberty.

First, Vasquez noticed the high traffic levels running north from Youngstown and south from Interstate 80. Second, he noticed the new Walmart also on the avenue.

“They don’t just build those for no reasons,” said the 26-year-old Vasquez. “They do they research.”

So he opened the doors of Fiesta Tapatia at 3632 Belmont Ave. on Aug. 8 and became one of five businesses to open along the avenue in the last 30 days and one of 70 that opened since 2003.

All along the corridor, gas stations and restaurants that were empty for decades are now hotels, shopping centers, food manufacturers and newer, mostly locally owned restaurants.

“We are the next big area for development,” said Pat Ungaro, Liberty Township administrator since 2003.

Before taking the reins in Liberty, Ungaro was Youngstown’s mayor for 14 years, from 1984 to 1997. He said during that time, Ungaro learned to market the city’s assets to businesses.

It was that philosophy, and the business contacts he developed in Youngstown, he brought to Liberty and realized its greatest advantage was its highway access with state the Route 11, 711 connector and Interstate 80 interchange. And unlike his time in Youngstown, the growth in Liberty comes without tax abatements.

Township trustee Jody Stoyak said another factor in Belmont’s improvement is its appearance. She said before Liberty became a home-rule township in 2006, zoning inspectors were limited on the standards to which they could hold property owners.

“Blight kind of progressed going north,” she said of Belmont.

But after 2006, the township could keep tighter zoning control on the businesses. With that, Stoyak and 30 volunteers planted flower beds in boulevards and grass curbs with new red and gold Liberty welcome signs placed at all the township’s entrances.

“It’s kind of a nice greeting,” she said.

Ungaro said the improved appearance snowballed by increasing residents’ pride in the township and encouraging residents to invest into it. Locals opened restaurants such as Jimmy’s, an Italian restaurant, and Charley’s Grilled Sub that replaced vacant bars and gas stations. Then came retail chains such as Citi Trends, Aron’s and Walmart.

“I called Arkansas every day,” Ungaro said of the four-year ordeal of bringing Walmart to Liberty.

The growth still is slowed by banks not lending as freely as they used to, Ungaro said. But he believes the township is set up for more growth in the future by installing water and sewer lines in 2006 on the north border.

“[Near] Youngstown, it’s all about revitalization; by [Interstate] 80, it’s all about stabilizing, and north of that is all about the future,” Ungaro said. “We lost everything a little bit at a time. But now we’re gaining it back a little bit at a time.”


1dawn421(265 comments)posted 3 years, 11 months ago

Last time i looked, and i grew up in Liberty, the spots where Jimmy's and Charley's are were never empty bars or gas stations. as i remember ponderosa was in the building that houses Jimmy's and it moved from the little plaza up the road. still no bar in sight. and burger king once stood where charleys is now. i have news for mr ungaro and the trustees, liberty is still a laughing stock in other cities and townships, the flowes they planted by the freeway are plain and as for the sidewalks, who is to shovel them in the winter? the same amount of bars minus 2 still exist here that always have, only the names have changed and we all know dont go to them if you have a older car or are black u will be pulled over.

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2author50(1121 comments)posted 3 years, 11 months ago

There are more Mexican eateries in Mahoning County then there are Lawyers!

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3DwightK(1373 comments)posted 3 years, 11 months ago

It's good to see new businesses open so the Township deserves some recognition. It would be nice if someone would clean up the area south of I-80. It looks shabby with uncut grass, gravel left over from last winter and litter. Mr. Ungaro needs to get a crew out there with weed wackers and street sweepers. You don't see that clutter and litter in Boardman or Hermitage.

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4Miki(99 comments)posted 3 years, 11 months ago

SIMON for Trustee!

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5dbarb(2 comments)posted 3 years, 11 months ago

Here is a thought, pave your roads instead of planting flowers. I laughed hyserically last week because driving up murray hill near the schools, they were doing a patch job up and down the street. This street was so bad in the winter time that I would drive all the way around to take my son to school. This has been the case since we moved to Liberty, they do cheap patch jobs and the roads are just as bad once we get the first cold snap. Where are our tax dollars going. Just like the parks in the Township are a joke also, you go to Hubbard and GIrard, which I shouldnt have to do and they are 10x the size and are very well kept. We are considering moving because we pay huge property taxes and the township has nothing to show for it and I know the value of my house has decreased over the past few years.

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6DOLE2(595 comments)posted 3 years, 11 months ago

Liberty was always known for getting pulled over if you were black.DWB

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7Bigben(1996 comments)posted 3 years, 11 months ago

Instead of spending money on sewer lines further north they should have focused solely on redevelopment at the south end.

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8joebo1212(8 comments)posted 3 years, 11 months ago

Simon for Trustee!!!!

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9endthismess(400 comments)posted 3 years, 11 months ago

First off, NO Simon for trustee. Corn chip man era is over folks. That was a mistake and is finally finished. Secondly, would all you resident whiners stop bashing Liberty? Ya big goofs are trashing your own township. No wonder no one wants to move to your township. And.... yes....., home values are dropping everywhere. Oh, that's right..... this is all about you local whiners...... you..... forget there's a big world outside of Liberty, huh. If ...you...don't....like....it...MOVE! You have all been clustered up in your private world class pity party since the late 70's. Why should anything be different with you residents who have become stale, calcified, bitter old barnacles?? Every area is trying to do the best they can with less money. If you don't take care of Belmont Avenue, the main corrider thru Liberty, how can you expect to get your retail base base back up and running? Get off Ungaro's back. At least he's still hanging in there for all you whiners. He's has to use federal and state the money when he gets it...and many times this money CANNOT be used for what residents pay for with real estate tax money. If he does not use the grant monies issued to the township for sate or federal improvements, Liberty's taken off the list to receive any more funds, should they still qualify. And if you have a problem with flowers, shame on you. Just keep looking out your own windows of the lovely view of your private muddy, weed filled yards with holes. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

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10dawn421(265 comments)posted 3 years, 2 months ago

@ endthismess. it wasnt ust simon that was part of the problem, there was litch too. the most self important blowhard i ever met. and all the years i grew up here i never saw a township administrator. seems to me my taxes are wasted here and we are in worse shape than beforeget with the program and do away with the jobs we dont need and hire more cops to sit at dennys and now thenew waffle house. and maybe if we had a black cop liberty would stop racial profiling. its been going on for too many yrs people

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