Council weighs HVAC improvements

Expected to vote on $116K project at 20 Federal

YOUNGSTOWN — While council members are hesitant to put money into 20 Federal Place with a possible redevelopment project there, they are expected today to approve a $116,200 payment to make heating and air conditioning improvements to the city-owned building.

Council members discussed the $116,200 request at length Tuesday during a finance committee meeting.

City officials are waiting to hear if they’ve been approved for a $6.9 million grant request to remove asbestos and partially demolish the building with that money coming from the Ohio Brownfield Remediation Program. The announcement was expected more than two months ago.

The automatic temperature control system on the 96-year-old building failed in February, said Kevin Flinn, the city’s buildings and grounds commissioner.

The city has to hire a contractor each time it wants to switch from heat to air conditioning because it’s a complicated process requiring drilling into air handlers, and the city doesn’t have anyone on staff with the experience to do it, Flinn said.

Councilwoman Lauren McNally, D-5th Ward, asked if the city should be investing money in the building with state funding uncertain and plans up in the air by Desmone Architects, a Pittsburgh firm, to spend up to $60 million to redevelop the building at 20 W. Federal St.

Flinn said: “We have tenants in the building, and we need to supply them with air and heat. It’s becoming more difficult to do that.”

The city asked three companies for proposals to replace the temperature controls, but only Gardiner Service Co. of Solon provided one, for $116,200, Flinn said.

Some council members Tuesday said they want to discuss the future of 20 Federal Place, but agreed to consider the temperature control at today’s meeting with the finance committee recommending passage.

Councilwoman Anita Davis, D-6th Ward, said the city has an obligation under its lease agreement with the tenants at 20 Federal Place to provide heat and air.

“If (the project) doesn’t move forward, it becomes even more of a money pit,” said Councilman Julius Oliver, D-1st Ward.

Flinn said Gardiner couldn’t estimate how long it would take to make the repairs because of national supply-chain shortage issues.

Finance Director Kyle Miasek said city administrators had talked about postponing the work and “this investment was deemed to be an appropriate amount to spend.”

The building has an occupancy rate of less than 40 percent.

If the city receives the state grant, which includes Youngstown providing about $2.3 million in additional funding, it would need to find new locations for the current tenants at the building while work occurs.

Oliver said a meeting with the existing tenants at the building is needed.

The state funding would also assist in obtaining historical tax credits and other financial resources for the project, Miasek said.

If the city doesn’t get the state grant, it would look for alternative funding sources, Miasek said.

Oliver asked if the state grant could be used to pay for the new temperature control system, and Miasek said it was a possibility.

McNally said a council committee meeting should be scheduled to discuss the potential redevelopment. The project could cost as much as $60 million. It has seen several delays since the city revived plans almost two years ago to look at redeveloping and selling the building.

The city had failed to sell the 332,000-square-foot building in the prior years.

A deal with Desmone initially was supposed to be finalized last October. Instead, Desmone is on its third memorandum of understanding with the city for an exclusivity contract to redevelop the building. That contract expires June 30 meaning it’s nearly a certainty that a fourth contract would be needed.

Jim Ambrose, Desmone’s director of business development, has said his company’s plan includes demolishing the three-story mezzanine on the Commerce Street side of the building, where the food court is located; building a skylight in the roof that would create natural light all the way down to the ground floor; a parking lot in the basement; and a place to buy baked goods, produce and other foods on the ground floor.

The firm’s proposal also calls for the restoration of the archways on the Federal Street entrance and removal of the canopy; improving the Phelps Street entrance; a rooftop restaurant as well as an observation deck on the roof; one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartments; and space for innovative businesses.

The city purchased the building in November 2004 after Phar-Mor, a national retail store company, went out of business. The property was the Phar-Mor Centre, the company’s corporate headquarters. Before that, it was the flagship location of Strouss’ department store for several decades.


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