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Restore plush Parkway?

Published: Sun, October 27, 2013 @ 12:01 a.m.




It’s too late to save the Paramount Theatre and the Kress Building downtown, but city officials are taking steps to prevent other buildings, such as the Parkway Tower, from following the same path to destruction.

When Charles Sammarone took over as mayor in 2011, he took an aggressive stance on property-code enforcement in part because he believes that people who left Youngstown did so because “they don’t like how the city looks.”

His logic: If you enforce property codes now, you can save historic structures, improve neighborhoods and draw the younger generation back. He expects this to be a long-term process.

“It’s like losing weight. You don’t wait to exercise until you have high blood pressure and a heart attack,” said Sammarone.

In the past two years, 1,500 properties with code violations have been brought into compliance. Some did so voluntarily. In many cases, the city pursued criminal charges to force owners to comply.

“There’s a high rate of prosecution – criminal charges. It helps to bring property up to codes,” said Maureen O’Neil, Neighborhood Improvement Coordinator for the city.

A current example of this effort involves the Parkway Tower, an eight-story building across from Stambaugh Auditorium across from Wick Park. The city is considering criminal charges against the owner, Simcha Vashulem LLC, a property investment group based in Brooklyn, N.Y., that has owned the building since 2007. The company also owns a nearby apartment building on North Heights Avenue. There are no code violations on that property.

The tower, built in 1929, once featured luxury rental apartments for higher-

income residents. The first-floor housed businesses that catered to the residents. With the rise of suburban development after World War II, tenants gradually moved out. The once grand structure, featuring 38 suites and intricately carved mouldings and ceilings, no longer has tenants. Utilities were shut off three years ago. The only income comes from a $60,000-a-year lease with AT&T for a cellular tower on the roof of the structure.

A rarity

This is one of the rare high-rise apartment buildings in the city, said William Lawson, executive director of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society.

“It is a unique piece of architecture, and it’s historically significant because of its place in time. There are so few examples of it here in Youngstown and the

Mahoning Valley,” said Lawson.

After a series of meetings with the city, the owner agreed to paint the first two floors of the building and demolish a carport and a house that was on the property. Other violations, however, were neglected, said city officials.

What those violations are is difficult to say because the case is in the criminal investigation phase, and Ohio law limits access to all information until charges are filed.

Robert Rohrbaugh, assistant city law director, confirmed he is investigating criminal charges against the owner. The owners did not return calls and emails asking for comment.

If found guilty of non-compliance, the owner could face a maximum penalty of 60 days in jail and a $1,000 fine, according to the Youngstown Property Code Enforcement website.

“Now because the matter is a pending criminal investigation, there’s not a whole lot more we can comment on about that — other than it is ongoing,” said Rohrbaugh.

This has not stopped others from speaking up.

“Both local government and people living in the neighborhood [need] to make the owner do the right thing,” said Lawson. “That’s critical, and if the owner sees no difference, they’re not going to do anything other than what they’re currently doing.”

Lawson sees the pressure from the community as the real issue on Parkway Tower. Bill D’Avignon, director of the city’s Community Development Agency, agrees.

“They’ll just need to have the correct amount of pressure put on them,” D’Avignon said. “It’s in an historic district, and we don’t think demolition is an option there.

“Somebody is going to have to step up and take some actions to preserve the structure.”

Donna Buzulencia, a Realtor with Lakeside Realty, said the owner won’t demolish the building.

“This building will not be demolished, for it’s around the Wick Park square. It will cost way too much to demolish,” Buzulencia said in a posted comment on The News Outlet’s web site. “The New York City owners will keep this building and deal with whatever need be done, for they are collecting this $60,000 a year over six years. So, do the math.”

The owner did attempt to sell the building in 2008. But a potential deal fell through because the purchase price wasn’t negotiable, the cost of renovation was too high and the owner wanted to retain the revenue from the cellular tower lease.

An idea

Matt Pagac, general manager of Stambaugh Auditorium, has a suggestion.

“I think it would make a great hotel space. We are in desperate need of a hotel for our use, and it’s close to us,” said Pagac.

People, who attend two-day or more business seminars and some performances at the auditorium, usually stay at the hotels in Liberty, Boardman or Austintown. But Pagac said some guests would prefer to stay at a hotel with a walking distance of the city.

“I would think for Youngstown State University, having a hotel close by would be valuable, also.”

When a building is left in disrepair, it affects the whole neighborhood, said Sharon Letson, director of Youngstown Cityscape, a group aimed at beautifying the city and preserving historical landmarks.

Buildings that keep up with the housing code “raise the standard of neighborhoods . If (the owners) neglect the buildings, other may say, ‘Why should I care about mine,’ ” said Letson.

Her group, which has invested significant efforts in the Wick Park neighborhood, hopes the plight of the Parkway Tower will spur the passage of an historic landmark ordinance in the city.

The ordinance would define landmarks and landmark districts that would be somewhat protected from demolition, incompatible alterations and new construction.

“We’ll keep trying to fight for it and get the city on board,” Letson said.

News Outlet reporters Josh Medore and Steve Wilaj contributed to this article.

TheNewsOutlet.org is a collaborative effort among the Youngstown State University journalism program, The University of Akron and professional media outlets including, WYSU-FM Radio and The Vindicator (Youngstown), The Beacon Journal and Rubber City Radio (Akron).


1LtMacGowan(695 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

I used to live there in 2006. The Owner was impossible to deal with. I moved in during the winter when it heated up outside the cochroaches came out. Their solution was to have this guy show up with a $2 bottle of bug spray from dollar general.

Now other than that (and it was a big issue) the building is rather nice and the view of the park and stambaugh stadium was great. I used to love its close location to YSU i could walk to classes.

There were other problems there is a glass security door in the lobby and since my apartment was facing the front on the 1st floor certain inconsiderate people would forget their keys to the door and pound on my window at 2am. I must have called the police 10 times. Also having one of the few cars there the neighbors thought it was perfect acceptable to pound on my door and ask for rides.

A steady stream of (at first, polite) refusals then increasingly rude rejects did nothing to stop this trend.

Also I rented it originally from this reality place on Meridian rd in Austintown but they were only renting it for that ... gentleman in Brooklyn. The apartments weren't actually ready but the guys they hired to fix them up and carpet them told the realitor they were. After i paid the rent and security deposit it took 3 weeks to move in. I was repeatedly told it was ready by the realitor only to show up and find construction still going on with the lead guy begging me just to move into the half finished apartment and not tell the realitors.

In short the building and location were awesome. The management was terrible and they let some bad tenants in. One time the fire alarms went off for NO reason and wouldn't stop for hours. I made several calls to Brooklyn NY with no answer. I had to stay with a friend for 2 days until it was fixed.

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

Send in Jacob Harver with more government money and he can open up a hotel that he can call 'Starving Artists".

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3ytownsteelman(680 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

Meanwhile, those same city people who are so adamant that this historic building be preserved are just as adamant that an even more historic structure, the William Tod Co. plant be torn down. Not all history is given the same stature. Industrial history isn't valued much at all in this city.

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4Owlguin(50 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

Simcha's using the building as a cell tower. Unless the City or someone else can buy them out of that lease, nothing is going to happen.

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5LtMacGowan(695 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

lets face it the only thing we can do about it is to restore it for apartments a hotel on the lower northside? there is no draw of people to that area let alone the need for 8 stories of hotel rooms.

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6republicanRick(1578 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

You people with big dreams have no money. Until you come up with the restoration money, this building should be put on the demolition list. Or better yet, the arson list.

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7CBDactivist(123 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

Realtor Donna, The owners may have said they won’t demolish the building because it will be too expensive to do!
But when clueless Sammarone start getting involved they will soon find out it is easier and less costly to rip it down and forgo the income than to attempt to restore it back to code, let alone a Hotel

A Hotel should be built Downtown!

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8endthismess(434 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

Look folks. The owners are in Brooklyn, NY and parts thereof and are bunch of ultra conservative Hasidic's. Rarely take calls, some do not use cell phones or email, they do not drive, they don't do business on certain days, only operate between certain times of each day, don't deal with any women in any form of business, are tighter than 2 coats of paint and they look down on most people who are not of their religion. If you do get them on a land line and they don't like what you are saying or you are too questioning or negative, they hang up. The ownership of this building and it's loans have been handed back & forth a few times. These current owners know they made a bad investment after taking this building off the hands from another Hasidic owner who was some type of common associate/friend with the present owner. That's when the trouble began. This second owner (NY) was only going to keep this building for a while and sell it back to the first guy who didn't have enough money to make it go in the first place. BUT...that did not happen. And that's why this joint is falling apart . This second owner NEVER intended to do anything with this place except collect the cell tower rentals.The city should take the building by eminent domain, notify with a court order all cell phone tower operators that if they want to stay on top the building, payments must be made to the city. This building is in a historically designated commercial part of the city and it is ruining the landscape of the historical park and surrounding historic structures. City, go secure a grant and begin the long haul of getting this place back on it's feet. Forget all the City's threats of criminal charges. And, forget YSU. They want everything for FREE. No one will ever get to these people. The City does not have enough money to chase these guys down who will just go underground or leave the county until this is dropped or the city takes over. These people actually at time wanted to GIVE this bldg to the City to make this go away. Right now, this building is a big write off for the second NY owners. Forget this Chinese fire drill of an effort City including all these big hefty threats. The longer it sits, the more it falls apart. Get about it CITY!!! And...there's not ever going to be ENOUGH money to take this place down AND the city know this and so too should all the cry baby blabber mouths pundits who belong to Wick Neighbors.

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9southsidedave(5172 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

Turn it over to HUD, and let lower income people inhabit the bldg

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10LtMacGowan(695 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

thats the best idea so far southsidedave

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11peggygurney(408 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

I disagree that there is no need for a hotel. The close proximity to downtown and the hoards of events is enough reason alone. The fact that it is within walking distance of YSU adds even more validity to needing a hotel in the area. Why should the hotels in Liberty and Boardman get all the business during the many MANY downtown festivals, Covelli and Stambaugh events, YSU events that draw out-of-town families, business conferences, etc.

There's plenty of need for a hotel in the city. Keep the money here.

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12DACOUNTRYBOY(848 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

Turn it into permanent housing for the homeless. I'm sure that plenty of federal monies can be gotten to do so.

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13residentofyesteryear(1 comment)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

Please check out "Y-TOWN DEVELOPMENT" in the Mahoning county auditors website property owners search. The city owns these properties on wick avenue. They are the former Valley Pontiac and Buick Youngstown dealerships. They are falling apart and look deplorable.“There’s a high rate of prosecution – criminal charges. It helps to bring property up to codes,” said Maureen O’Neil, Neighborhood Improvement Coordinator for the city. Apparently this statement does not apply to the city. Very sad. Do as we say, not as we do.

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14BenitaDrugs(42 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

Dear endthismess,
Have you ever heard of the paragraph?

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15wickpark(2 comments)posted 2 years, 3 months ago

I agree completely with endthismess that the city stop pussyfooting around and play hardball. Take by eminent domain. All you other naysayers can go you know where!!!

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