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Chamber breakfast highlights successes, plans for post-COVID recovery

“It seems like life has become an endless struggle,” said Mahoning County Commissioner Anthony Traficanti. “It seems there is only doubt and fear, but there is hope around the corner.”
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Jim Kinnick, Eastgate Regional Council of Governments executive director, addresses attendees at the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber's annual Good Morning Mahoning County! breakfast today at Stambaugh Auditorium. (Justin Dennis | Mahoning Matters)

YOUNGSTOWN — Area government and business leaders today touted the triumphs of a year spent hamstrung and isolated by a global pandemic.

The Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber hosted more than 100 attendees at its annual Good Morning Mahoning County! breakfast at Stambaugh Auditorium, which highlighted economic progress made during a lean, socially distant year and promised good news on the horizon.

It was the chamber’s first in-person event since the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the state, leading to a business-chilling lockdown.

“It seems like life has become an endless struggle,” said Mahoning County Commissioner Anthony Traficanti. “It seems there is only doubt and fear, but there is hope around the corner.”

Meijer in Boardman

Meijer employees working to bring online the department store’s new location along Market Street in Boardman said there’s been overwhelming interest in its grand opening, set for next quarter. The opening likely will be announced about six weeks in advance, said Boardman store Director Dessie Szklany.

“When are you gonna open? I have it asked about 17 times a day,” said Szklany, who’s spent about a decade in the chain’s Dayton and Cincinnati markets. “I’m excited about calling this place my home now.”

Though Eric Sklenar, the new Meijer store’s young pharmacy team leader, has lived his entire life in Canfield, he’s never had the opportunity to work in the area, he said today.

Chris Wilson of Boardman, who’s heading the store’s meat department, said he nurtured his butchery skills first as a hobby, then as a profession with local Sparkle markets, Sam’s Club and Catullo Prime Meats in Youngstown.

Stambaugh gets greenlights

Matt Pagac, general manager of Stambaugh Auditorium, said at this time last year the venue was preparing for what looked to be one of its all-time best years.

“In a few weeks … we ended up laying off all our staff except for one and have had to work our way back from that,” he said.

The pandemic left live performances waiting in the wings, but it also spurred positive operational changes at the venue that otherwise “wouldn’t have happened without the adversity that we faced,” Pagac said.

Pagac said Gov. Mike DeWine’s Thursday announcement that the state’s sporting and entertainment venues can soon expect to reopen — albeit with just 25 percent indoor capacity — is “a step in the right direction” and sets the stage for a revival.

Limited indoor traffic offers the right condition to renovate the 95-year-old venue’s exterior, said JoAnn Stock, Stambaugh’s chief development officer.

State capital earmarks totaling $350,000 will go toward razing, rebuilding and restoring the building's exterior staircase, promenade and retaining walls and piers, while also adding a new handicapped-accessible ramp.

The new construction, expected to be completed this year, would match the building's historical architecture design.

Stock said bids for the work came in about $1 million under expectations.

Infrastructure upgrades on tap

Mahoning County Engineer Pat Ginnetti today outlined about $38 million in infrastructure improvements slated for the next four years, including:

  • $8.6 million to widen West Western Reserve Road to three lanes between the Market Street and Hitchcock Road intersections this summer, which will increase traffic flow, minimize backups and “maximize the corridor for development”;
  • $9.4 million to widen an eastern portion of Western Reserve Road between Market Street and South Avenue in 2023;
  • $20 million for a two-phase project to reroute sewage from the New Middletown wastewater treatment plant to Boardman’s upgraded plant, making sanitary sewer available to more properties and lessening burden on the Struthers plant’s capacity.

Justin Dennis

About the Author: Justin Dennis

Justin Dennis has been on the beat since 2011, covering crime, courts and public education. Dennis grew up in Poland and Salem and studied journalism and communications at Cleveland State University and University of Pittsburgh.
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