YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Jim Kinnick already is looking at ways to expand the Smart2 project beyond the downtown area.
A ribbon-cutting for the Fifth Avenue phase of the $27.65 million project to upgrade several downtown streets took place Monday morning. It was immediately followed by the ceremonial groundbreaking for the second phaseb– the upgrade of other downtown streets.
The project “is an example of when you come together as a region to work with one common vision moving forward,” said Kinnick, executive director of Eastgate Regional Council of Governments.
In 2018, a group of local stakeholders was successful in securing $10.8 million from the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development – or BUILD – program in the U.S. Department of Transportation. The funds were allocated for the Strategic & Sustainable, Medical & Manufacturing, Academic & Arts, Residential & Recreational, Technology & Training – or Smart2 – Network project.
The stakeholder group included the city administration, Eastgate, Mercy Health, Western Reserve Port Authority, Western Reserve Transit Authority, Youngstown State University and the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber. Representatives of the group successfully lobbied federal officials to award the grant.
On Fifth Avenue, the improvements included reducing the number of lanes, adding bump outs for buses, lighting enhancements and multi-use paths.
“This project will transform not only just one part of the city but multiple parts of our community,” Mayor Jamael Tito Brown predicted.
“This is just the start,” Kinnick added. “We’re looking at the corridors.”
A potential “Smart2 Phase 2,” which would involve the city’s major corridors such as Market Street, Mahoning Avenue and Belmont Avenue, is an effort to continue the “positive momentum,” he said.
“This is a prime example of when people get together and put their collective minds and resources together,” First Ward Councilman Julius Oliver said. “I want to challenge everybody today to put the same collective mindset and resources together to attack the problem of poverty in our city because violence will be reduced if we do that.”
U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13 Ohio, recalled meeting 20 years ago with then-YSU President David Sweet to collaborate on securing a general planning grant for the downtown. Ryan praised downtown flower plantings organized by Sharon Letson of Youngstown CityScape, aimed at “changing people’s mindset about what was possible down here.”
He also said the community was at “a very pivotal moment” in its history, with developments at the Youngstown Business Incubator and the Voltage Valley, including the recent announcement that Lordstown Motors Corp. was partnering with global technology company Foxconn.
“They’re locating here because of the attributes we have here,” he said. The company plans to “go all in” and make the Mahoning Valley its North American electric vehicle hub.
“The sky is the limit for the Mahoning Valley and everything that’s happening here right now,” said U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-6 Ohio. “It’s no wonder that businesses want to come here, because of the workforce, because of the optimism.”
Johnson congratulated the team that put together the Smart 2 proposal and praised “all the effort that went into that to make sure that we put our best foot forward.”
“People all over the country are coming in and asking the question, ‘Why can’t Republicans and Democrats work together and get things done?’ I think they need to come here to the Mahoning Valley and see how we do it,” Johnson said.
YSU President Jim Tressel praised one of the key members of the team who was not in attendance at Monday’s event, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. “He did a great job here,” he said.
Tressel also referenced Oliver’s remarks regarding poverty, as well as comments by Johnson and Ryan on the need for a trained workforce. Solving the workforce problem is the biggest challenge to resolving poverty, he asserted.
“We are not going to be shy of opportunities,” he said. “Now it’s up to get that workforce built to take advantage of these great opportunities.”
The timeline calls for Phase II of the project – reconstruction of Front Street, Federal Street, Commerce Street, Phelps Street, Rayen Avenue and Park Avenue – to be completed in September 2023. Phase III – implementation of an autonomous shuttle to serve the downtown area and St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital – is slated to begin in spring 2023.
Phase II is underway with work on South Phelps Street, which should be open to traffic within three to four weeks, and more work to be completed in spring 2022, said Charles Shasho, Youngstown deputy director of public works. Front Street work starts in December and Commerce Street work will begin this winter.
“The general idea is to work on Commerce and Front at the same time to allow traffic to move on Federal and Rayen, and then we’re going to flip and work on Federal and Rayen when commerce and Front are open,” Shasho said. “That’s basically the plan.”
Pictured at top: Eastgate Regional Council of Governments Executive Director Jim Kinnick addresses those gathered during the ribbon-cutting of the first phase of the Smart2 project.
Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.