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Engineer offers hope to save Realty Tower

An Ohio engineering firm told Youngstown leaders Thursday the Realty Building can be stabilized and saved from the wrecking ball.

YOUNGSTOWN — Realty Tower may not be doomed just yet.

An Ohio firm told city officials Thursday that the building can be stabilized.

Councilman Julius Oliver, D-1st Ward, said at a finance committee meeting Thursday that Cincinnati-based firm Structural Systems Repair Group assessed the building Thursday afternoon and told him and other city officials that it is confident the building can be “easily” stabilized.

A gas leak caused an explosion May 28 that killed one man, Akil Drake, and severely injured several others. Cleveland-based structural engineering firm Barber & Hoffman said the building was in imminent danger of collapse, and cautioned the city that everything within about 220 feet should be evacuated, forcing out the 170 residents of the neighboring International Tower and closing the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel on either side of the Realty Building.

The National Transportation Safety Board is leading the investigation and is still unable to enter the building.

On Monday, YO Properties 47 LLC, which owns Realty Tower, notified city officials that it intends to demolish the building, following an assessment by an unidentified structural engineer. “I wanted to see if I could give the residents, and the city and owners a third option,” Oliver said.

In making calls to companies across the state and region, Oliver said O’Rourke Wrecking Company in Cincinnati recommended SSRG.

Oliver said the company was interested.

“This is what they do; they specialize in stabilizing historic buildings,” Oliver said. “After looking at the building, they said there is a clear path forward and they can stabilize the building fairly quickly. After that, it’s really up to the administration and to the owners what they want to do with it.”

Oliver said SSRG told him the building mostly needs its lateral beams replaced.

Oliver worked with Fourth Ward Councilman Mike Ray to make the evaluation happen quickly and cover the cost.

Ordinances on the agenda for Thursday’s committee and general council meetings included motions authorizing the city’s finance director to transfer $3,900 and $1,000 respectively from Oliver’s and Ray’s ward discretionary funds to pay for SSRG’s assessment.

Oliver said a report from SSRG is expected today and then he and city officials will have a clearer idea of how they could proceed.

Ray said that at the bare minimum the hope is that, even if the building still must be demolished, it will be safe for work crews to enter and place charges.

Oliver and Ray said they hope residents of Realty may at least be able to recover some of their belongings, residents of International Tower might be able to return to their homes and DoubleTree could reopen.

But Oliver said he makes no promises.

“I can’t guarantee that residents can get back in, and I can’t guarantee the building will still be able to stand,” he said.

Have an interesting story? Contact Dan Pompili by email at dpompili@vindy.com. Follow us on X, formerly Twitter, @TribToday.

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