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DOWNTOWN REBOUND || Signs of new life in Youngstown



Published: Sun, June 17, 2012 @ 12:01 a.m.

By DAVID SKOLNICK | skolnick@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

The city’s downtown will see several changes in the coming months as it continues

to attract new businesses to an area that largely was deserted for years.

Work should be done in a month at Erie Terminal Place, a 65-bed apartment complex at 112 W. Commerce St., said Dominic Marchionda, the building’s owner. Next on his list is to start work before the end of the year on developing the vacant Wick Building at

34 W. Federal St. into an apartment building.

Also, the Lemon Grove, a downtown bar and restaurant, is relocating two doors east of its current location to the larger 122 W. Federal St., the former Rosetta Stone Cafe and Lounge, and is

expected to open in mid-July.

The Downtown Circle Convenience & Deli at

116 W. Federal St., in business for 10 months, plans to open a second location, to be called University Circle, at the corner of Elm Street and Madison Avenue by late August.

Avalon Gardens Pizzeria plans to open at 17 W. Federal St. in August, and Eastern Gateway Community College will offer classes at the Plaza Parking Deck building at 16 N. Champion St., also in August. Youngstown Nation, a gift shop that will sell Youngstown-themed items, is set to open at the Federal Building, 25 E. Boardman St., in a few weeks.

And last month, new owners reopened End of the Tunnel in the lower level of the City Centre One Building, 100 E. Federal St.

Still, not everything is rosy: Buffalo Wild Wings announced Friday that June 22 will be last day for the Federal Plaza location.

The decision to close the downtown location was not based on a lack of business; the site no longer met the requirement to remain a Buffalo Wild Wings franchise, said Doug Esenwein, regional manager for Buffalo Wild Wings in the Youngstown market.

“We had a lot of success at this location,” he said.

A new restaurant is expected to take over the site shortly after the Buffalo Wild Wings closing, Esenwein said.

“I expect them to make their own announcement within the next few days or if not the next couple of weeks,” he said. “We’re happy the place isn’t going to be sitting empty.”

‘IT’S COMING TOGETHER’

So why Youngstown?

“I have a feeling that Youngstown will be strong again,” said Al Adi, Downtown Circle’s owner. “Compare downtown to a few years ago. It’s been a great improvement with many investors. It’s coming together.”

Jacob Harver, owner of the Lemon Grove, said downtown “has so many unique and wonderful places that complement each other. There’s the vibrancy of the businesses plus new residential housing. Downtown will definitely continue to grow.”

Mike Patrick, who owns several bars in the area and is co-owner of End of the Tunnel, said, “Our city is starting to come back like the old days. It’s making a comeback. There’s a buzz about downtown. There are a lot of great, fun restaurants and businesses and [Eastern Gateway is] moving in.”

If you were looking for a downtown restaurant in 2004, you had perhaps a half-dozen choices.

During that year’s presidential race, John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee, had a downtown rally, pointing to the many vacant buildings on West Federal Street when talking about the area’s economic decline.

Taking down the pedestrian plaza walkway that cut off vehicular traffic between East and West Federal streets in late 2004 and the opening of the convocation center, now known as the Covelli Centre, in late 2005 were key turning points in the revitalization of downtown, Mayor Charles Sammarone said.

“Who’s going to travel on a dead-end street?” he said of Federal. “People want to locate businesses on a street with traffic. Also, the Covelli Centre has helped by bringing people from the suburbs and other cities downtown. It draws more people to downtown. We need to keep building on this.”

parking

The downtown growth has led to one problem — parking.

“Twenty years ago, there was no problem with parking because there was no one coming downtown,” Sammarone said. “When you have people, you have a parking problem. It’s good and it’s bad. People hate to walk. I’m one of them. People like to park in front of where they want to go. That’s an issue, but it’s good because it means downtown is doing well.”

Because downtown workers, particularly those at the VXI Global Solutions call center in the city-owned 20 Federal Place, were parking on West Federal Street between Wick Avenue and Phelps Street, some business owners in that area complained their customers didn’t have nearby places to park.

The city took care of that problem by installing about 20 paid parking meters there. As a side benefit, the city is making about $200 daily on weekdays with the meters, Sammarone said.

“It’s nice to make money, but the intent was to create a way to get people to that area for short periods of time,” he said.

apartments

Along with the restaurants and stores, downtown also is seeing a resurgence in those wanting to live there.

First, it was the Realty Tower Apartments at 47 Central Federal St. All but one of the building’s 23 units are currently rented, and Joe Maxx, a 1,200-square-foot coffee shop on its ground floor, is “doing great,” said Anita Atheneos, property manager for Park South Development Co. LLC, which manages the building.

The 14 apartments at the Federal Building are occupied. The building also is home to the V2 Wine Bar Trattoria, a restaurant that opened on the first floor in October.

Next to open is Erie Terminal Place in about a month.

The building will have 65 beds in 40 apartments with 15 tenants already signed up to live there, said Marchionda, whose company spent about $9 million to turn the vacant structure into housing for Youngstown State University graduate students and upperclassmen as well as young professionals.

Marchionda’s company built and opened the $8 million, 114-unit Flats at Wick student-housing complex near YSU in 2010.

“You’re seeing a tremendous amount of activity in downtown Youngstown,” he said. “It will continue to get better. I truly believe we’re going in the right direction.”

That’s why Marchionda said his next project is rehabilitating the Wick Building.

He doesn’t own the building, but as part of the deal to buy the Erie Terminal, Marchionda signed a lease with an option to buy the Wick. He expects to finalize the purchase shortly.

“We’ve received inquiries from young families and people of all ages about downtown housing,” he said. “There is demand, and we plan to start work at the end of the year to turn Wick into an apartment building.”

Marchionda also owns the Legal Arts Building at 101 Market St., which his company purchased in March for $175,000.

He said the building could be turned into a hotel, possibly with office space.

“Based on the current trends, we believe there’s a strong need for a hotel [downtown], and we want to build one,” Marchionda said. “We’re interested in looking at other [downtown] buildings for sale. There’s definitely a need for a hotel. I have to decide if it will be from scratch or [if we’ll] refurbish an existing building, which is my preference.”

Meanwhile, the Stambaugh Building at 44 E. Federal St., one of downtown’s largest buildings, has been vacant for years. There was talk in 2011 of renovating Stambaugh into a hotel with apartments and retail businesses. But there’s been no movement.

Also, in March, PNC Bank left the PNC Bank Building, on the corner of Wick Avenue and Commerce Street, for City Centre One.

PNC occupied about 70,000 square feet of the 130,000-square-foot building. That space at the building, across the street from Stambaugh, remains vacant.

“We’re showing it to a lot of people and [we’re] working with a few potential” tenants, said Atheneos, whose company manages the building. PNC “had three and a half floors. My main concern is to fill the main floor” of 25,000 square feet.


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