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Youngstown City Council OKs $3M to assist businesses

YOUNGSTOWN — City council approved $4.44 million in American Rescue Plan spending, including $2 million for a small business loan fund and $1 million for a business facade program.

The rest of the money, $1,442,000, is for four separate projects sponsored by Councilwoman Lauren McNally, D-5th Ward, who is vacating her seat at the end of this month to begin serving in the Ohio House of Representatives. Wednesday was McNally’s last meeting as a council member.

City council on Oct. 19 chose to not vote on legislation, sponsored by Mayor Jamael Tito Brown, to approve funding for the two business programs. It came as a result of a dispute between council and the administration on spending the city’s $82,775,370 ARP allocation that appears to have been resolved.

A council committee last week recommended the $3 million in funding be approved and council voted Wednesday to do that.

The $2 million small business revolving loan program would provide “access to capital as gap financing to enable small businesses to grow and general new employment opportunities,” according to the ordinance.

A small portion of the loan will be forgiven for those businesses that qualify.

The $1 million program would provide up to $20,000 to each business to pay for the cost of exterior improvements.

Both programs would be administered by Valley Partners, which focuses on assisting small businesses in the Mahoning Valley.

McNally sponsored four pieces of legislation Wednesday to spend $1,442,000 in the 5th Ward.

The largest was $700,000 for safety upgrades, drainage improvements and road rehabilitation of Industrial Road between Bears Den and Meridian roads.

She also sponsored legislation to spend $350,000 for pedestrian safety improvements along Mahoning Avenue from Meridian Road to the Interstate 680 overpass; $300,000 for the Western Reserve Port Authority to manage projects along the Mahoning Avenue corridor that would turn vacant and abandoned properties into productive businesses; and $92,000 for rust removal and painting of the U.S. Route 62 bridge over Mill Creek.

Council approved legislation in October, sponsored by Councilman Mike Ray, D-4th Ward, to provide $200,000 in ARP funds to WRTA to focus investments on Mahoning Avenue.

Council authorized giving each of its seven members $2 million each in ARP funding in April to be used in the wards. McNally had previously spent $194,000, so her successor will have $364,000 left from the ward’s $2 million allocation.

There were nine people who filed to succeed McNally with two of them since withdrawing, said Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman Christopher Anderson.

The two who withdrew are Cynthia McWilson, who has unsuccessfully run for the council seat three times and is one of six 5th Ward Democratic central committee members who will vote on the replacement, and Emmett Warren Jr., a wastewater treatment plant operator at the Mahoning County Engineer’s Office.

Warren had to withdraw as he is a classified employee and isn’t permitted to keep his job and hold public office. McWilson’s home was redrawn into the 6th Ward, effective with next year’s election. If she were to get the appointment in the 5th Ward, she couldn’t run for that council seat for a full four-year term in 2023.

The ward’s central committee is meeting Jan. 7 to elect McNally’s successor.

Also Wednesday, council voted to authorize the board of control to seek proposals for the development of the long-shuttered South Fieldhouse.

The city had two open houses for those interested in the sports complex on Erie Street on the South Side more than a year ago and initially had planned to seek proposals during the early part of this year for the property.

The fieldhouse has been closed for about 15 years, and the city unsuccessfully has tried to sell it a number of times.

When the fieldhouse opened in 1940, it was used by Youngstown State University, then called Youngstown College, and South High School, which closed in 1993, for basketball games. It has been used for other activities, shows and events.

An appraisal in 2017 estimated it would cost up to $1.5 million to renovate the fieldhouse with asbestos abatement, repairing the roof and replacing the electric system being the most expensive components.

Also Wednesday, council heard from four citizens concerned about SOBE Thermal Energy Systems Inc.’s plans to collect and shred plastic and rubber tire feedstock for synthetic gas at the former Youngstown Thermal plant. The plant provides steam for several downtown businesses.

Those speaking Wednesday objected to the burning of plastic and tires, saying it was bad for the environment.

dskolnick@vindy.com

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