Top local business and educational officials said garbage and boarded-up properties make them embarrassed at times to show out-of-towners the city’s downtown.
“The biggest complaint I hear is how filthy downtown is,” said Jim Cossler, chief executive officer for the Youngstown Business Incubator.
Laura Meeks, president of Eastern Gateway Community College, said she saw three empty potato-chip bags during a short walk Monday.
“Cleanup is very important,” she said.
It was a somewhat unusual topic to discuss Monday during a panel discussion on how to get businesses and education to help expand the traditional meaning of the city’s downtown.
Youngstown Mayor John A. McNally served as moderator of that discussion on changing people’s thinking about the city’s downtown being more than the central business district.
Downtown also includes Youngstown State University, Wick Park, Mill Creek MetroParks and the St. Elizabeth Health Center, he said.
“It’s an entire large area and we need to change the perspective of people as to what we are,” McNally said. “The one word I hear is seamless. There needs to be a seamless feel to the area.”
By growing the area, the major partners in the expanded location can work together easier for the betterment of the city without being concerned with arbitrary boundaries, he said.
Others on the panel were Robert Shroder, president and chief executive officer of Humility of Mary Health Partners, and Martin Abraham, dean of Youngstown State University’s College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
The discussion was part of a conference Monday and today at the Covelli Centre’s community room on “articulating a vision for partnerships,” sponsored by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a public policy think tank.
The city “can do a better job” of taking care of boarded-up buildings downtown, Shroder said.
“Either clean them up or knock them down,” he said.
Abraham added that when he is taking people from YSU to downtown he has to take “the right route to avoid certain areas.”
Cossler carries a garbage bag with him, which he showed those in attendance at the conference, and said he collects mostly recyclables when he walks.
“It will be filled when I get back to the office,” he said.
“I’m embarrassed to walk up the street with people,” Cossler added.
The look of the extended downtown area is “important to give a better impression” of the city, McNally said.
The panelists talked of working together to improve the city.
“We, as business leaders, need to do a better job of selling downtown,” Shroder said. “I think the community has almost an inferiority complex.”
There is “no crime” around HMHP’s St. Elizabeth, but there’s still a perception that it’s “dangerous when it is very safe,” Shroder said.
Meeks and Abraham said there isn’t a competition for students among Eastern Gateway and YSU.
“Our goal is to not duplicate, but to help our schools,” Meeks said.
During a later discussion, Alan Mallach of the Brookings Institute said for communities to succeed, they must take chances and not be afraid to “fail miserably.”
He added: “People are afraid to fail or to provide seed money because they’ll get [criticized] by city council or the local media. That is a disastrous attitude. You have to be willing to take risks.”