Published June 2, 2008
There’s a pretty good story in Monday’s Vindy about a Georgia company wanting to invest $17 million in a Youngstown residential project.
My guess would be that on any day and on any street corner in Youngstown, this would be a welcomed interest: 374 beds, a proven U.S. company, $17 million and new construction where there now is blight.
But the project is upsetting top folks, namely Youngstown State University and Stambaugh Auditorium, which would be a neighbor.
It’s an unfortunate predicament because the city could use somebody who wants to build in the YSU/downtown vicinity whose name is not Frangos, Frangos, Frangos, Frangos, Frangos or Frangos.
Let’s be clear that there are great dreams and intentions in the projects proposed by Frangos, Frangos, Frangos, Frangos, Frangos and Frangos. But putting a city’s hopes on one name is risky. Frangos had great news a few weeks back with the launch of Realty Towers. But the flip side of that great news is that it took seven years or so to get to that point.
I believe Frangos when he said it took a lot of pieces getting into place to get Realty Towers to this point.
There is truth to that. But that is also one person’s judgment.
If he was sitting on just one or two key properties, the city could be patient with one man’s judgment as they worked with other developers with other interests and timetables.
But Frangos controls 11 buildings in downtown that are of interest to potential development.
Enter Place Properties of Atlanta. They want to build new student housing on Fifth Avenue between YSU and Stambaugh.
You could accuse the company of a poor entrance for not working with YSU on the project. That’s what YSU says. We have no reason to doubt YSU because we couldn’t get Place to call us back in recent weeks. (Place did call us Monday and said that they did have contact with YSU, and that the two sides are at odds over the project).
But Place is working its way through city channels this month to gain proper approval for the project.
YSU says its concern is safety of the students walking between the complex and the campus. The sidewalks aren’t big enough, apparently. I don’t buy that too much. It’s not like we’re asking third-graders to walk the half-mile or so.
(YSU is also not thrilled with its contact with Place. It's your call whether it's "no contact" as YSU says, or fruitless chats, as Place claims.)
You must carefully measure YSU’s voice in such projects. With interest in Frangos’ projects and the Smoky Hollow effort, YSU is hardly an innocent bystander to property development projects.
As a center of human activity, YSU is certainly welcome to have a strong voice and a seat at the table for student-targeted projects. But in some ways, it is a quasi-competitor to Place. How much should Place work with a competitor? So YSU should save the student safety argument for further down the list of concerns.
Stambaugh is not thrilled because it would cut in on their parking availability. I think a parking problem in Youngstown would be a nice thing to have for a change. For Stambaugh, it’s a solvable problem.
I personally don’t like that the Place project again takes human beings further away from a downtown ripe for residential living. That trend began with the dorm construction years ago on the north side of campus. This would continue it. That is unfortunate.
All that said, mine, YSU’s and Stambaugh’s concerns don’t outweigh the phenomenal need to have outside investors take an interest in Youngstown.
This is an opportunity that hasn’t come along in awhile. It is worth extended city and YSU efforts to find a place for Place.
But if Place wants a seat at the table, perhaps a company rep could consider enrolling in a Communications 101 course at YSU. Absentee landlords and absentee developers have deservedly earned bad reputations. Any outsider coming in must understand the importance of effective communication.