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« Brain food from the heartland

canton is a fair distance from saddest downtown i've ever seen

By Louie b. Free (Contact)


Published April 25, 2007

xc3xa2xe2x82xacxc2xa2 Canton is a fair distance from saddest downtown I've ever seen

{an editorial by Gayle Beck-Canton Repository}




Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann just gave downtown Youngstown, his old
stomping ground, 38 new jobs. If you know Youngstown at all, you know that
this is like manna from heaven.

Twenty-two of the people who will work in a new Bureau of Criminal
Identification and Investigation office on the city's Federal Plaza are
moving downtown from Boardman, which is Youngstown's Jackson Township.
Sixteen others, who work for Dann's new statewide task force on predatory
lending, are transferring from Columbus.

In this age of electronic communication, there is probably little handicap
in basing state employees outside the capital. Booming Boardman and Columbus
won't miss the income tax revenue. And my hunch is that predatory lenders
have flocked to Youngstown like moths to a flame.

Of course, Canton also could use 38 well-paying state jobs. Maybe Dann isn't
done blessing Northeast Ohio with his largess. But when I hear someone
bemoan Canton's economic troubles, I acknowledge that they're serious and
then I suggest: Go to downtown Youngstown. Take a look around downtown.
You'll come back feeling blessed to live here.

I don't mean to diss Youngstown. I've never lived there. I don't keep close
tabs on it. And I know how crummy it feels when reporters from elsewhere
take the deeply analytical look at political bellwether Canton that you get
only by spending an hour here. City of Sagging Porches, my foot.

But that said, I have never seen a central city as sad as Youngstown's.

I assume some good things have happened in the 25-plus years since the
Mahoning Valley's steel industry died. But at least from the south side, the
closer you get to downtown, the more desolate the scene. You will see
virtually no sign of life, only boarded-up buildings, until you are two
blocks from the city's center.

Apparently, however, uninhabited does not mean safe. Last December, a
politician who was making the rounds of newspaper editorial boards mentioned
that earlier in the day, The Vindicator had had an armed guard escort him
into the building - through the loading dock.

Last month, I heard from a high school classmate who reminisced in an e-mail
about his summer jobs to pay for college. Recalling his time at Youngtown
Sheet and Tube, he said he was in that area a couple of years ago and
decided to see the old mill in nearby Campbell. "When I got there," he
wrote, "I was stunned. ... It had been a gigantic structure holding over a
dozen massive furnaces and an adjacent tube mill and blast furnace. But, the
mill had entirely disappeared. There were large trees growing on the banks
of the Mahoning River where the mill used to be. There was literally nothing
left."

This is not the kind of green space a city can afford.

Speaking of affordability, Dann will not pay rent for a year for his offices
at 20 Federal Place. After that, the rent will be $2 per square foot. Maybe
this is a sweetheart deal for a hometown boy who made good, but I'm betting
it's not much lower than the going rate for space in one of downtown
Youngstown's premier office buildings.

As I say, look around downtown Canton and be glad.


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