Youngstown official: GreenHeart cut gas line at Realty Tower

YOUNGSTOWN — GreenHeart Companies was relocating utility lines — including gas lines — at Realty Tower when a huge explosion caused heavy damage to the downtown building, according to a city official.

Charles Shasho, the city’s deputy director of public works, said Thursday of GreenHeart, “I don’t know why they were cutting a gas line. They obviously thought it was dead. They were working on the utilities and doing work” when the explosion occurred.

Documentation obtained Thursday by The Vindicator shows the Youngstown Board of Control on April 25 approved paying $140,133 to GreenHeart, a Boardman-based property development and management company, to remove the utility lines — water, gas, electrical, data and phone lines, sprinkler lines and furnace water tanks — from under the sidewalk in front of Realty and relocate them to its basement.

The work is outlined in an April 1 letter on GreenHeart letterhead to Shasho.

During that relocation work, an explosion occurred in the building on Central Square, killing Akil Drake, a Chase Bank employee, and injuring seven others.

The explosion caused extensive damage to Realty Tower, destroying the Chase Bank branch on the ground floor, and forcing the immediate evacuation of residents on the upper 12 floors. Residents will be able to collect some essential belongings today from their apartments.

But it will be months — if ever — before tenants of those 23 apartments will be able to return to the building at 47 E. Federal St.

Structural engineers have to make an assessment whether the building can be saved.

The National Transportation Safety Board is leading the investigation into the explosion with staff on hand for one week. A preliminary report is expected in 30 days. A final report with the cause of the blast will take one to two years.

Thomas Chapman, NTSB member, said a pressurized, but abandoned, gas line was cut causing the explosion and is the focal point of its investigation. Chapman declined to discuss specifics Thursday and said that he was not sure why the line was pressurized.

“That will be part of what is investigated,” Chapman said. “To determine exactly why that apparently abandoned service line was still pressurized.”

Because it is across the street from Realty and near where debris or a potential collapse could occur, the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel will also remain closed until fire Chief Barry Finley is assured Realty is safe.

In an April 19 letter to the board of control, Shasho wrote he was requesting approval of the $140,133 contract to GreenHeart, “as the building owner, to provide all labor, tools, material, supervision and equipment required to complete all utility relocation in reference to Realty Tower vault infill. The basement vault roof system is in conflict with the proposed roadway improvements. All utilities in the vault area must be relocated to allow the vault to be infilled.”

But Bryan M. Ridder, legal counsel and business agent for YO Properties 47 LLC, which owns Realty, said Thursday that GreenHeart doesn’t own or manage the building.

GreenHeart is a contractor at Realty, he said.

Ridder declined further comment “due to the pending investigation.”

Shasho said Thursday the building’s utility lines had to be removed from under the sidewalk in front of Realty to the building’s basement so the city could finish a major street improvement project on Federal Street.

The city’s contractor handled the other utility relocation work, but Shasho said because GreenHeart owns Realty and does construction, it was easier for that company to handle the job at Realty.

GreenHeart doesn’t own or manage Realty, Ridder said.

But it owns other downtown buildings — including the Gallagher and the Legal Arts Centre — and has some affiliation with YO Properties.

“The city was going to go in next week and fill in the sidewalk,” Shasho said of Realty.

Regarding GreenHeart, he said, “They were working on the lines when the gas explosion happened.”

In a prepared statement Wednesday, Ridder said YO Properties 47 LLC “in cooperation with the relevant governmental agencies is investigating as to how and why this explosion happened. Appropriately, pending this investigation, YO Properties 47 LLC will not be making any future public statements.”

Have an interesting story? Contact David Skolnick by email at dskolnick@vindy.com. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter, @dskolnick.


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