From a sixth-floor vantage point, Dominic Marchionda looks down at the bustle of downtown Youngstown.
“Look at all those cars,” he says with a grin that’s as boyish as it is convincing.
Downtown has been slowly creeping back to life the last few years.
Marchionda rattles off the projects that have arrived. In 2010, it was Realty Tower. In 2011, it was the Federal Building. He points, too, to the restaurants and the tech jobs.
In 2012, it will be Marchionda’s year.
He and his wife, Jackie, will open the Erie Terminal building — a $9 million, 65-person residential complex that will be the latest, biggest brick in a critical bridge between downtown and the Youngstown State University campus. It’s a place for YSU students and a continuation of the Marchiondas’ vision that launched the Flats at Wick residential facility in 2010. They expect to invite students to tour Erie when the spring semester starts and have tenants moving in by May.
While it’s their project, it’s also, in many ways, their fathers’ project, too.
Were it not for Attilio Marchionda, who died in 1986, all of this might not have happened.
After college, as Dominic and Jackie started to build their careers, they wondered about moving to North Carolina or Florida.
It’s where everything was happening, Dominic said.
Here, it wasn’t.
“But my dad always told me, ‘Have faith in Youngstown; have faith.’ I am so glad he always said that to me,” Dominic said.
Attilio not only believed it, he worked it. The day after Dominic and Jackie were married and everyone was still celebrating them, Attilio was back in the steel mill that morning.
“I felt bad, but that was how he lived — working.”
Jackie’s father, Fred, left Italy in 1959 with his brother. They had $30 in their pockets and dreams in their souls. After settling in New Jersey for a bit, they escaped the hustle and bustle there and joined family already here in Youngstown.
They arrived here by train. The Erie Terminal hosted their first steps in the Valley.
Jackie calls their investment an honor to the past.
“So many people came through this building hoping for new lives — a future, a purpose,” said Jackie. “To see things like this die is just sad. We’re honored to bring something back to life.”
This won’t be their only downtown revival.
“We will do Wick next,” said Dominic, with a cocksure look that replaces the boyish grin as we talk on the rooftop of the Erie.
What Erie has in function with its location against YSU’s new Williamson College of Business Administration, Wick has in elegance.
They see Wick as a specialty hotel. Wick is a couple of rooftops across — standing classy, stoic and emboldened as it rises over the city. It seems to mirror Jackie and Dominic.
Dominic, you could dismiss as Trump-like with his self-assured tone. You could. But it’s pure conviction that comes from homework.
With Erie, they took a year to do their due diligence on the property before buying it. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places. It was rundown and abandoned.
It would have been easier to build from scratch another Flats.
“But not as rewarding,” said Jackie.
The research included knowing all the incentives for such an undertaking — waived city fees, tax abatements, state and federal historical preservation credits and a lot more. At coffee counters and bar stools, we easily dismiss these steps as corporate welfare and free cash for rich guys. Dominic scoffs.
“Without that help, this project does not get done,” he said — pausing with a steely look. He waves his arms at the flurry of men working the six floors like a human habitrail. “There are 50 to 60 workers in here. They don’t work without these programs. The programs are absolutely necessary. I’d trade shoes in a minute with someone who thinks this can be done without help.”
He’s wise to his surroundings, too.
He and Jackie are in the student-housing business because in the mid-2000s, they saw the bottom of residential housing market coming. Tuscany Estates is a choice neighborhood in Poland, and it was their project. They didn’t see more of those coming. They researched various living communities, including elderly and retirement, before zeroing in on college housing.
Jack Fahey, YSU vice president of student affairs, said the trend for campus housing in the last 15 years has been private partnerships.
“Student interests have shifted more to apartment living than dorms,” Fahey said. In fact, there are no immediate plans for YSU to add housing itself. “Dominic has a really good relationship with the students. And he works great with us on standards for security and business practices.”
There is a plan to expand the 115-student Flats. But all attention now is on Erie. It’ll be a cool place.
A coffee shop, a restaurant, a draught house, a small theater, tanning beds and exercise room are among the features awaiting tenants who can choose from one-, two- and three-bedroom units.
It’s a shared job for the Marchiondas. Workers call away both of them at various times to give updates and seek direction. They laugh at their roles. Dominic dreams; Jackie is reality. They both see now as the right time.
They sense Youngstown optimism from their friends and peers.
They see Youngstown energy and interest from the twenty-somethings who fill downtown now.
And from their fathers, they’ve kept their faith that Youngstown can be a place to build dreams.