A $1.5 million project that replaced water and sanitary sewer lines along North Walnut Street, a key street in the Wick District-Smoky Hollow area, is a small, but important step in improving the neighborhood, supporters say.
But it’s a far cry from the $250 million proposed by Wick Neighbors Inc. for the area in 2005 and then reduced to $100 million two years later, before the national housing bubble burst.
“They were ideas that fit the time, but circumstances have changed,” said Martha McCorkle Morgan, WNI’s program manager, at a Thursday ribbon-cutting event to recognize the project’s completion. “We are fortunate to be in the position to change with the times. Nothing was set in stone with those other proposals. They were proposals. Now we’re going to investigate with our partners what future proposals make the most sense.”
The project, between Carlton and Rayen avenues, is key to developing the Wick District-Smoky Hollow area, said the Rev. Richard Murphy, WNI’s board chairman.
“This project will be a great addition to this area and make a difference for this community,” he said.
He later added, “This is pre-development dollars. Without them, the rest of the development can’t occur.”
Wick Neighbors provided $100,000 of the project’s cost. The rest came from a $665,000 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Economic Development Incentive Program grant, $550,000 from a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers grant and $250,000 from the city of Youngstown.
Redevelopment in Youngstown is something that can take 20 or more years to finish, Father Murphy said.
Wick Neighbors, a nonprofit organization working to develop this neighborhood, has been in existence for 10 years.
“We’re on the right track,” Father Murphy said. “You need to succeed on this level, Phase 1, and then real development occurs.”
The 66-acre area is bounded by Wick, Andrews, Rayen and Madison avenues with Youngstown State University owning about 80 percent of the property.
YSU President Dr. Cynthia Anderson said the next step is for YSU, WNI and other organizations to “look at what the interest might be within the community for what would be taking place down here.”
WNI wants to make similar infrastructure improvements on Andrews Avenue, Father Murphy said.
WNI officials still want to transform the neighborhood into a place with homes as well as commercial properties and businesses.
“Small, incremental steps are really the best way to proceed with a project like this given the economic realities of this [Mahoning] Valley and our time,” Father Murphy said. “In the face of adversity, we feel hopeful.”