After about 15 years of dormancy, the basement cafeteria at Oakhill Renaissance Place will reopen next year to serve breakfast and lunch to workers and visitors.
Jimmy Sutman, owner of the Purple Cat, and Carol Rimedio-Righetti, chairwoman of the Mahoning County commissioners, said a five-year contract would allow the cafeteria to reopen, with disabled adult clients at Purple Cat being paid at least the minimum wage to work there.
With Olsavsky-Jaminet Architects Inc. donating its design services for the project and some contractors donating their time, Sutman said he hopes to reopen the cafeteria in February.
He also hopes his clients will be able to deliver food to offices within the complex, where more than 500 people are employed in county offices and tenant agencies.
“We not only are helping fill that basement area — the cafeteria area — so that our employees there have a place to have lunch, we are helping his clients learn a new type of employment” in food service, Righetti said.
“It’s just a win-win situation for both Mahoning County and the people that the Purple Cat serves,” Righetti said. “This is probably one of the most rewarding signatures of a lease agreement,” she added.
“This is like the Holy Grail of what I do. I’ll be able to employ 25, 30 or 35 of my folks with disabilities daily at the Oakhill site,” Sutman said. He also said the cafeteria will be convenient for Oakhill workers who don’t have time to leave the premises because they have only a 30-minute lunch period.
The Purple Cat will pay to renovate the space and buy an additional $15,000 to $20,000 worth of new equipment it will need in addition to the usable equipment left over from the hospital cafeteria days. It also will pay for its own separately metered gas, electricity and water.
Under the agreement, the Purple Cat will occupy the cafeteria rent-free until it pays off its renovation costs, Sutman said.
“If rent was $1,000 [a month] and it costs us $80,000 to renovate, we would get the free rent until we cover that $80,000,” which would be 80 months, he explained, using a hypothetical rent figure.
Righetti said details concerning the rent are still being worked out.
Sutman said he hopes renovation costs can be kept to about $50,000. However, he said: “We don’t know what we’re going to find once we do this construction.”
The Purple Cat won’t need anywhere near all of the former hospital’s food-service capacity, he said. “That is really the biggest part of our renovation — scaling down. The kitchen itself is massive. We only need 25 percent of that.”
Oakhill is the former Forum Health Southside Medical Center at 345 Oak Hill Ave., which the county bought in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in 2006.
Oakhill houses the county’s Department of Job and Family Services, Veterans’ Service Commission, board of elections, auto-title department, recycling division and coroner’s office.
The city health department, the Mahoning-Youngstown Community Action Partnership and the Ursuline Sisters’ Comprehensive Care Clinic are tenants in the former hospital.