By jeanne starmack
Wick Park neighbors who gathered in the basement of the First Unitarian Universalist Church on Elm Street had a job to do.
Their assignment: On a card, list three of the greatest assets on the city’s North Side.
There’s the Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown State University, Wick Park, Crandall Park, Stambaugh Auditorium — those were some hints.
Kathy Szmaj, who lives on Fifth Avenue, came up with hers: diversity, historic features, YSU, hospitals and museums.
That was more than three. But for those who live in and love the neighborhood, it may have been hard to choose.
“It’s a wonderful place to live,” she said at Monday’s meeting. “We know our neighbors; they know us. We want to be involved.”
Their next assignment: What are the top three problems in the neighborhood?
Vacancies, noisy industry, missing streetlights, empty lots, crime — they could take their pick. Szmaj chose homeownership, landlord responsibility, education and jobs.
The last assignment: “What is the one thing you wanted to say to the city but never did,” said Tom Hetrick, a neighborhood planner for the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp.
“I live and work in the city,” Szmaj wrote. “How about a tax break?”
The YNDC and city representatives had the sixth of nine public meetings to identify priorities for a citywide neighborhood revitalization plan.
Getting residents’ input for the plan is important, city planning director Bill D’Avignon told a large crowd gathered there.
“We give a presentation and ask for feedback to identify what the greatest needs are and to plan strategy,” he said.
The input will help the city combat issues it faces as population falls and homeownership declines.
The Wick Park neighborhood, despite all its assets, is considered “weak” on a scale of “stable, functional, constrained, weak and extremely weak,” Hetrick said. To determine ranking, the YNDC used data such as mortgage rates, vacancy rates, homeownership rates, police service calls and poverty.
Blight, vacancies, poverty and crime move in when people move out, data Hetrick presented show.
The neighborhood is full of large, elegant older homes, residents pointed out.
They are, however, rentals or abandoned by out-of-state owners. They fall into disrepair and get torn down before anyone who is interested in renovating them can get a deed signed over.
“It takes two years to get a deed put in your name through the land bank,” said Peggy Gurney, who is secretary and treasurer of the Wick Park Neighborhood Association.
Steve Carter of Fairgreen Avenue said one 5,000-square-foot house that featured “Gone With the Wind” staircases was torn down as he was in the process of making a deal to buy it.
“Some of these houses are irreplaceable,” he said.
One wish on the neighborhood’s list: Make it easier to salvage them.