By: KALEA HALL
The pleas of Youngstown leaders who went to Washington, D.C., in January to fight for a $10.2 million grant for the city were not heeded.
Those leaders found out this week that the U.S. Department of Transportation denied the grant application for the Youngstown SMAR2T Network, which would connect strategic medical, manufacturing, academic, residential, recreational, technology and employment centers in the city’s economic core.
Akron, on the other hand, cashed in for the second straight year.
In January, Mayor Jamael Tito Brown, Youngstown State University President Jim Tressel and others went to the nation’s capital to lobby for support of Youngstown’s grant application.
The Eastgate Regional Council of Governments was the lead applicant on the proposal for the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program. The TIGER Discretionary Grant program provides funds in road, rail, transit and port projects “that promise to achieve national objectives,” according to the DOT’s website.
The Trump administration had proposed cutting the TIGER fund from the fiscal 2018 budget.
See the application and supporting documents
“We will request a debriefing with the U.S. DOT and go down and meet with them and see where our application fell short, if that money would become available again,” said Jim Kinnick, executive director of Eastgate.
Eastgate partnered with the city, Eastern Gateway Community College, Mercy Health, Mill Creek MetroParks, Western Reserve Transit Authority, YSU, the Youngstown Business Incubator and Mill Creek MetroParks for the grant.
The partners secured $2.3 million in cash and $7.9 million in in-kind services for a total of $10.2 million in local support for the project.
“Obviously, we are disappointed that our SMAR2T project was not selected for funding” through TIGER, YSU spokesman Ron Cole said. “We were very hopeful that our proposal, a collaboration of more than a dozen institutions in Youngstown, would have been favorably received and funded.”
The partners say they are committed to finding the funding to implement the project, but now it might take more time.
This is the second time Youngstown was denied the TIGER grant for this project. Akron, however, received $8 million this year for phase II of the Downtown Akron Promenade. In 2016, Akron received $5 million for the first phase of that project.
John A. McNally, who was Youngstown mayor when the application for the federal funding was filed, said he was disappointed to hear the city didn’t get funding.
“It’s good for Akron to get TIGER funding for a second year in a row,” he said. “It would be nice to get a piece of the pie for our project.”
The centerpiece of the project would be reconstructing Fifth Avenue by narrowing the road, enhancing the landscape and improving pedestrian traffic.
Other key elements of the project include the reconstruction of Rayen Avenue, Front Street, Commerce Street and Park Avenue.
The goal is to better connect the university with downtown and the hospital and also the new chill-can complex under construction on the East Side to improve the quality of life in the city.
“Obviously, I am disappointed the city didn’t receive a TIGER grant for our second application,” said Charles Sasho, deputy director of public works for the city.
The city, Shasho said, has about $3 million in federal funds for Fifth Avenue. The full price tag to reconstruct Fifth is still being finalized. The project would start in 2020.
U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Howland, D-13th, said Youngstown deserved the TIGER funding.
“Had the federal TIGER program received enough support from the Trump administration and Republican-controlled Congress, it’s likely Youngstown’s application would have won an award,” he said. “My staff and I have been working with the local leadership team for several years now and I am enthusiastic about the progress they made. Their application was very impressive.”
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Cleveland Democrat, has opposed efforts by the Trump administration to eliminate the TIGER grant program, which enjoys bipartisan support in the Senate.
“Local communities that are strapped for cash need federal grant programs to help update cities and towns,” Brown said. “I will keep working on behalf of Youngstown to help it draw the investment it needs for the [SMAR2T Network] project.”
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, a Cincinnati-area Republican, said he will keep working to ensure a potential infrastructure package will provide opportunities for communities across Ohio.
“There was no shortage of good grant applications from Ohio this year, just as there is no shortage of serious infrastructure challenges throughout our state,” Portman said. “I support Youngstown’s efforts to invest in job creation and community revitalization.”
Contributors: Staff writers Justin Wier and David Skolnick