Blight Comes to Central Square


« Reason

by Tyler S. Clark   | 92 entries


Imagine that you're Kelly Pavlik's trainer. In the big fight, between rounds, he's got a hangnail. What do you do to ensure his safety? You'd cut off his hand, right?

This is essentially the argument made by the Frangos Group in the removal of at least one hundred windows from the historic, century-old Stambaugh building, leaving it exposed to the elements. Frangos's employees told the city the building's windows were in disrepair and must be removed for safety reasons. They propose instead to face Youngstown's Central Square with plywood or plastic from the historic façade where Youngstown Sheet & Tube headquarters once sat.

There must be a new standard for ownership of historic properties downtown to ensure that buildings are maintained to a minimum standard of health and safety. The following letter was delivered this morning to the mayor by a group of concerned citizens and business and property owners. Please read it and then follow the link at the bottom to add your name in support of the online petition in its wake.

Mayor Williams:

This writing comes in the wake of the news stories of the window removal at the Stambaugh Building.  It seems the City of Youngstown has this issue well at hand and is acting responsibly and has swiftly instituted mechanisms to prevent a recurrence and guard public safety.  As citizens, our concerns extend beyond those of public safety.

The Central Business District of Youngstown is defined by its Central Square.  The Stambaugh Building, Realty Building, First National Bank Tower, Huntington Bank Tower, Civil War Memorial and Chase Bank Tower define the Central Square.  All of these buildings chronicle the development of Youngstown in the era of its transition from a small Ohio community into a bustling metropolis. All of these structures carry pedigrees, which elevate these buildings to a landmark status. 

The aforementioned structures share many things in common.  All are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and will receive National Register of Historic Places markers later this summer. CityScape is finalizing the text of these markers, which are funded through a grant by the Ohio Historical Society.  All are the earliest local examples of the phenomenon know as the “skyscraper”.  Many of these landmarks are benefactors of responsible stewardship. With the exception of The Huntington Bank Tower, the same owners of the Stambaugh Building own all the landmark buildings on Central Square.  Little known is the fact that these same owners are the custodians of three additional National Register Listed structures in the immediate downtown.  The Wick Building, Erie Terminal and Liberty/Paramount Theater are among the portfolio of holdings of this company. 

Recently, it was learned that the Liberty/Paramount Theater is doomed to the wrecking ball.  Neither a plan to save the façade nor a credible re-development plan for that site exists. The owner has been quoted by the press as saying the Stambaugh Building is “a lost cause.”  Such a statement casts a long shadow of doubt on the actual motive of the recent activities at the Stambaugh Building.  It appears to these authors that removing the windows in their entirety from this structure and replacing them with plastic film sets the stage for slow motion decay, leading to calls of blight and eventual demolition. We certainly hope this is not the case.  We are alarmed at the uncertain fate of all of these building and the indifference shown by the players in the real life Monopoly game that is occurring in our downtown.

We fear the Stambaugh Building incident is becoming the norm rather than the exception for property owners who elect to do nothing with their structures. It is irresponsible stewardship of our historic properties that has caused the demolition of many of those in the past and the real possibility of many in the future falling unless checked.  Two major historic properties along West Federal Street, which are not owned by the Stambaugh Building owners, come to mind as potential future demolition candidates due to poor stewardship.  This speaks to issues beyond the Stambaugh Building and frames them as a Downtown issue.

It is now time in the history of our City, as it re-defines itself, to balance the progress of new construction with the value of the historic built environment.  We encourage the City of Youngstown to hold the Stambaugh Building owner to a high standard when remedying this matter. 

In the immediate future, the building must be made weather tight in such a manner as to prevent any damage occurring while in limbo. Any boarding up or temporary methods used to achieve this should also come with limits on the period of time the temporary measures may remain in place.  We suggest weeks rather than months be the unit of measure between the stabilization and remedial phases.  In the near future, we see nothing short of a full historically accurate window restoration/replication/replacement being required of the owner.  We envision this to occur or be in its completion phases well before the Winter of 2008 is upon us.  We will not buy into excuses of the costly nature of the suggested remedy as the owners have spent millions in acquiring other properties in our downtown without the proper due diligence being performed to their existing properties.

Concurrent with the above activities we call on the City to assemble a Task Force comprised of business leaders, citizens and City officials to study and create a Landmark Structure Ordinance that bestows landmark status on selected buildings in the Central Business District, prohibits their demolition unless they become a public safety issue due to catastrophic fire or storm damage and tie to those structures a set of maintenance standards which are above the minimum standards set forth in the International Building Maintenance Code. Such an ordinance will guard our historic properties and assure their proper maintenance regardless of the owner.

Finally, the activities have had serious impact on many other aspects of our community.  CityScape was forced to abandon parts of their beautification efforts this past Saturday leaving many volunteers without assignment and tainting a positive and productive yearly event.  The only national chain operating in downtown was forced to close and remain closed until the City responsibly erected barricades to guard their patrons from future peril.  This type of incident could jeopardize this chain’s presence in downtown if left unresolved for an undefined period of time.

We are certain you share in many of the concerns of this group and our hope is for the City to rise to action with this owner, future owners and any landholder who shows indifference in maintaining their properties.

Instead of adding your comments here, please add them to this article, so it will get boosted to the top of the most commented list and highlight the urgency of this issue. Thank you for your support. 

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