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Mayor shares vision for Youngstown's post-pandemic future

As Youngstown recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic with $88 million in new federal funding on deck, Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown shared his plans to help city not only survive but thrive.
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Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown during the State of the City address on Friday, March 26, 2021.

YOUNGSTOWN — Mayor Jamael Tito Brown shared his vision for the recovery of Youngstown after the COVID-19 pandemic during his State of the City address on Friday.  

Brown discussed the challenges of the city, how people had to learn to be flexible and adapt to the pandemic and where the city is now. 

“We have so much more work to do, and we’ve come so far in such a short time,” Brown said. 

Brown highlighted some of the work of the city departments over the last year and discussed moving forward for the future of Youngstown. 

THE PANDEMIC AND PUBLIC HEALTH

When the pandemic hit, Brown said the city created a COVID-19 team that took “bold and courageous” steps to limit the spread of the virus, including limiting access to city-owned buildings and requiring city employees to work from home when possible. 

Brown said the Youngstown City Health District navigated the city through the pandemic over the past year.

The health department declared racism as a public health crisis, promoted COVID-19 safeguards, provided PPE and offered COVID-19 relief assistance with gift cards and food.

This coming Sunday marks one year since the city reported its first COVID-19 death, Brown said. 

Brown discussed the work in other departments that continued, with adjustments, through the pandemic.

At the height of the pandemic last year, the Community Planning and Economic Development department worked to inform businesses about available federal resources like the Paycheck Protection Program and CARES Act funding.

“We wanted to make sure that those dollars were there" for businesses, recognizing how "valuable they are to this community," Brown said.

COMMERCE

The engineering department worked with community partners to advance several roadway projects for construction in 2021.

Among the key projects, Brown said, are the SMART2 Network, a smart transportation corridor that connects Mercy Health's St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital to downtown Youngstown; a bikeway from Mill Creek Park to the city's center; and bridge removal and roadway rehabilitation work along Crescent Street. 

Brown said over the last three years, the city received $313 million in infrastructure investment from the federal, state and local levels.

The city is seeking proposals to make 20 Federal Place an economic driver again, Brown said. Plans for the seven-floor building include a basement-level bowling alley, food court and retail shops. The remainder of the building could become a mix of offices and residential units.

Ronald Dwinnells, CEO of ONE Health Ohio, discussed plans for the Glenwood Health Center on the corner of Glenwood Avenue and Indianola Avenue. 

The 18,000-square-foot space will offer medical, dental and behavioral health care along with medication-assisted treatment, a pharmacy and lab testing. 

The center will also address social determinants of health in the area, such as food accessibility and exercise, by including a walking trail, community kitchen, greenhouse and more.

“I think it would be one of the first major sites that will directly address these social determinants,” Dwinnells said. 

The estimated cost for the project is between $5 million and $7 million.

Dwinnells said construction plans were delayed due to the pandemic. ONE Health Ohio plans to start construction by winter so the center can open next summer.

Read the City of Youngstown's 2020 Year in Review below. To view a full-size version, click the icon in the upper-right:

 

PARKS AND RECREATION

Brown said the pandemic also affected youth and summer programs. Dawn Turnage, director of the parks and recreation department, was able to adjust the programs so they could still go on. 

“They were smaller in size this year but not in value or impact, “ Brown said.

This year, officials expect to improve parks and play spaces for children, he said.

Other plans include a youth development program to get youth in the city involved early in workforce development. Brown said businesses have the opportunity to make sure young men and women are working early.

Suzanne Barbati, president and executive director of OH WOW! The Roger and Gloria Jones Children's Center for Science and Technology, also announced the center would be reopening at 9 a.m. on May 15 after being closed due to the pandemic.

Barbati said the center created STEM SAKs, science activity kits for children, that helped the center survive through the pandemic. 

Tickets will be available online to preregister since OH WOW! Will be open at 25 percent capacity due to COVID-19 safety regulations.

YOUNGSTOWN POLICE DEPARTMENT

Mayor Brown said the city's police department will be more focused on community policing efforts and restoring the community's trust in the police.

Brown hired Youngstown Police Department Chief Carl Davis in January — after former Chief Robin Lees retired — because Davis is focused on that mission, Brown said.

YPD also received an $800,000 U.S. Department of Justice expected to pay for more officers on the street, who'll largely focus on community policing.

Brown said this year the city expects to equip officers with body cameras. Officials also plan to follow through with state-led efforts to get illegal guns off the street and fight for common gun laws in the state and across the country.

NEW DEVELOPMENTS

Brown said there has to be an impact plan to help Youngstown move forward from the pandemic. 

He said he'll first plan to work with social services agencies and partners to identify barriers to eliminating poverty. “I want to make sure that we all come together collectively” to eliminate poverty, he said.

The city is also working to offer job training programs for residents, the mayor said, which would give them better chances of earning livable wages.

As the city recovers from the pandemic, Brown said he wants the city not only to survive but thrive.

“I want to ensure that everyone [who] wants to be tested and wants to be vaccinated can do so, particularly in the minority community,” Brown said. 

Brown said the prevalence of COVID-19 highlighted the community's most vulnerable and disadvantaged. Brown said he wants to work toward offering better quality health care.

Officials are also looking to expand broadband access across the city. With more residents now working or schooling from home, the pandemic has revealed the disparities in the digital divide, especially in urban communities, Brown said.

“We want to make sure that when we have an opportunity, we want to expand our broadband access,” Brown said. 

Youngstown is expected to receive about $88 million as a part of the American Rescue Plan that can be spent through 2024. The city will receive the first half of the funds in May and the remainder in 2022.

The funds can be put toward projects like improving high-speed internet infrastructure.

“This is a legacy opportunity for Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley,” Brown said. 

He said the city’s vision is to create a strategic comprehensive plan to impact the community over the next 10 to 20 years. The plan will include input from the citizens, city council, the mayor and community partners. 

“We all have a part in a plan,” Brown said. “It’s going to be key for us to make sure that our children and our grandchildren are affected by this opportunity for us.”

Brown said he plans to hire a designated compliance manager to ensure the funds are spent appropriately under U.S. Treasury guidelines. 

He said he wants to continue cleaning up blighted properties in the city and develop a new housing strategy to create quality and affordable housing. 

Other plans for the future include a full-scale grocery store to address food insecurities and infant morality and improvements to transit accessibility as more jobs come to the city. 

“There is no rush to spend his money,” Brown said. “That is why a plan is key to success and to make this a legacy opportunity.” 

The Youngstown Year in Review for 2020 and Brown’s State of the City address is available on the city’s website.



Ellen Wagner

About the Author: Ellen Wagner

Ellen Wagner reports on municipal services and budget cuts in Youngstown. She is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.
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