My grandfather had a gas station on Youngstown Road back in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Cotton’s City Service was in the building that is now home to Carmen’s Pizza. I spent a lot of time there as a young kid doing a lousy job of washing windows and even getting to pump a little gas once and a while when one of Cotton’s many friends stopped in for a fill-up.
Youngstown Road was a pretty dynamic place in those days but other than Warren Baking and the barber shop across the street, little of that vitality remains today. Like many similar shopping areas of the pre-suburban era, Youngstown Road has fallen into a largely unproductive state.
Reviving and revitalizing Youngstown Road from downtown to the city limits will be a very high priority for me should I win the November 3rd general election.
This is a hugely underperforming city asset; it is heavily trafficked and the main route from downtown to the mall. It should be lined with nice little shops and services that contribute to the city’s economy.
The timing is perfect. Thanks to the fine efforts of city engineer Paul Makosky, Youngstown Road will be completely resurfaced, along with new curbs, in 2018-19. This is the time to start planning to take advantage of this new infrastructure.
First, we should be taking a hard look at the underlying sewer and water mains to do whatever preventative maintenance we can before the new road goes in. Nothing is more galling than watching a brand new road being dug up to fix a 100 year old pipe.
Next we need to define the goal. In my view it is not the role of government to be the developer of property. Rather, government should shine a light on an area it wants to see developed and then do the organizational and administrative things necessary to make the area attractive to private developers and entrepreneurs.
Warren is not the only city in America that has a Youngstown Road of its own in need of revival. In fact, it is all too common, and therefore the problem has been addressed and solved in lots of other places already; the blueprints to the solution are in the public domain.
For example, last year the Greater Ohio Policy Center published a report entitled: “Redeveloping Commercial Vacant Properties in Legacy Cities.” It could have been titled “Redeveloping Youngstown Road,” it is that specific to our needs.
In 110 pages it lays out, in step-by-step fashion, everything a city needs to do to attract investment in a commercial strip like YTR. Broadly speaking, these steps include creating an inventory of all the property in the corridor, including a list of that which is vacant, judging their condition, their current or most recent use, vacant/occupied status, owner, etc.
Code violations and tax delinquency should be identified for each properties as a tool to move them into more productive hands and suggestions as to how to use both the carrot and the stick to motivate landlords to cooperate.
The report advises on the right way to do marketing studies to identify what consumers in a given area want to see on the new YTR.
Importantly, the report contains pages of sources of both public and private funding, and suggestions for the best legal structures to deploy. There are even sample forms to use for organizing projects and many examples of successful redevelopment projects — most of them in nearby cities where site visits are easily made and where we can get advice from people with experience.
I attended a webinar hosted by GOPC and have spent at least 20 hours with the printed report since then. I am convinced that there is absolutely nothing stopping Warren from doing this. The cost is minimal. It is simply a matter of having a plan and executing it. Currently, nothing like this is being attempted on Youngstown Road or anywhere else in Warren, because we have no plan.
We can do better.
If this subject interests you the report can be download as a PDF here: vacantproperties-doc
Written by Dennis Blank for Mayor.
Photo courtesy of Shuttic Arts