Youngstown Foundation donates $3 million to amphitheater project

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By Kalea Hall


To kick off the celebration of its 100th anniversary, the Youngstown Foundation donated $3 million to the city’s amphitheater project.

“Our mission is to enhance the quality of life in the city of Youngstown,” said Jan E. Strasfeld, executive director of the foundation. “We couldn’t think of a better fit. It’s something significant that will be here for another 100 years to support the downtown area.”

The foundation announced the donation at a Monday press conference. It now will receive naming rights on the project for the next 20 years. Ground will be broken on the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheater in January. A completion date is spring 2019.

Youngstown Mayor John A. McNally said there will be other donors with naming rights for different aspects of the project announced before year’s end.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development last month approved the city’s request to borrow $4 million from its federal Community Development Block Grant funds for the proposed downtown amphitheater and riverfront park project.

The loan must be repaid over 20 years with an interest rate of 2.59 percent.

The amphitheater and park will be built on 12 acres along the Mahoning River from the South Avenue Bridge to just west of Hazel Street at the former Wean United site. The 3,250-seat amphitheater will be on property that includes the former Wean site on South Phelps Street.

About 95 percent of the design work is finished.

The city also plans to spend $5 million from its water, wastewater and environmental sanitation funds for the project.

Discussion of the amphitheater began with JAC Management, which manages the city-owned Covelli Centre, about six years ago.

“We need a way to compete in the summertime,” said Eric Ryan, executive director of the Covelli and JAC CEO. “There’s a lot of concerts that are playing outdoor facilities. We needed a place to have outdoor concerts. We needed a turnkey operation to do community things.”

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Howland, D-13th, said behind the scenes “there’s so much that goes on” to make a project like this happen.

“You find partners along the way,” he said. “You have to have the tech jobs and the university and the public-private partnerships and the local leadership, and this is what you get. All the stuff will continue to feed off each other.”

Youngstown State University President Jim Tressel also stressed the importance of partnership.

“We have to get the word out about this,” he said. “Great things are happening here, and it’s exciting to be a part of it.”

Several Youngstown industrial pioneers including John Stambaugh, Philip Wick, Henry Butler, L.A. Manchester and Frank Hitchcock used their financial success to start the foundation in 1918.

It was a time filled with hardship with an influenza epidemic, a riot from the mills that spilled into the community, a bitter cold winter and a shortage of housing, food and fuel, according to the foundation’s website. The men saw the spirit of the city wavering and wanted to help bring it up.

The vision for the foundation was that its income “shall be applied perpetually toward bettering conditions in the City of Youngstown and vicinity, making its citizens healthier and happier and for assisting charitable institutions promoting education, scientific research, the care of the sick, aged or helpless, the care of children, the betterment of living and working conditions, recreation for all classes and for the purposes that will improve the mental, moral and physical well being of the inhabitants regardless of race, color, sex or creed,” according to the foundation’s website.

A celebration of the foundation’s anniversary will happen throughout the year with several announcements.

The assets of the foundation since it began have grown from $33,000 to more than $120 million. It is the fourth-oldest community foundation in the country.

“We have grown over the years, and we have been able to give $200 million back to the community,” Strasfeld said. “We want to continue to have a significant impact and move the needle on critical issues to better our community.”

Contributor: David Skolnick, city hall reporter

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