Back from the dead (again) (and again and…)

27 08 2007

Well, at least I gave everyone prior notice that I’d be taking a leave this time around. August and September are like the doldrums for me, and don’t have much time for blogging.

But after a week away from home (and a month away from the site), I was pleased to see the Vindicator profiling Lou Frangos, the man who has quietly built up his portfolio of downtown real estate. It’s refreshing to see someone with substantial capital see opportunity in downtown for once, but to say it could be great again? Given his plans, I’m not sure how.

For starters, the Wick and Realty Buildings, as you know, will become housing, with the Erie Terminal becoming YSU student housing. There will always be YSU students, but for the young urban professionals developers hoping will move in, they couldn’t have picked a worse time. The housing market is collapsing, and while retirees may possibly get a space in a high-rise Miami condominium at a cheap price, Youngstown may not fare as well.

The Paramount Theater I agree is unsalvageable, but keeping the facade and putting a parking lot in the space creates a bizarre picture in my mind; one of a load of cars shielded by a wall. It’s like saving the facade of the State Theater: I can agree with you the outside is beautiful and cannot be replicated with today’s architectural standards, but when the rest of the building is knocked down, what purpose does it really serve?

And then the Stambaugh Building offers some interesting possibilities, but could also be disappointing. On the one hand, Party on the Plaza is a popular entertainment option, but doesn’t offer much space. Demolition of Stambaugh would allow for increased space, but would also create the need for a new location for Buffalo Wild Wings, a downtown mainstay that I’d hate to see leave Fed.

I am hard to please, if you don’t already know. I am always thinking how things can be done better, and right now I can’t help brainstorming what different ways the Frangos’ properties could be used.



24 07 2007

With budget shortfalls throughout Mahoning County, it is ridiculous that the county commissioners think it makes good economic sense to purchase the Oakhill Rennaisance Place. Among other things, they argue ample parking and an on-site day care for employees’ children makes it a much more attractive place than their former location at Garland Plaza on the east side.

And with that said, the other side of the Oakhill trial presents a grubby picture. The Cafaros, their former landlords at Garland, have filed the so-called “taxpayers lawsuit” against the county. As one internet poster on pointed out, the only damage done will be “to the Cafaro’s wallets”. The trial is ugly hypocrisy: Cafaro lawyers say commissioners Ludt and Traficanti didn’t do their homework and that the Oakhill purchase is a bad move for the county. I believe that’s right, but the sad part is the “taxpayers”, in all reality, just want their business back again.

On today’s testimony, former county auditor John Reardon questioned where the money was coming from. This is just swell, because if the money pulls the county into debt, they’ll ask to put more taxes on the ballot, but if it isn’t, well what else could’ve it gone to? Some county departments aren’t fully staffed, some could use upgrades.

I’m not getting too involved in this trial. I believe it is wasteful spending on the county’s part, but I’d be much more supportive of the plantiff’s case if they weren’t the same people who are looking to re-gain their business.


23 07 2007

Hard to believe, but it was one year ago today that I established New YTOWN. Looking through the archives, we covered a lot of ground, from different ideas to freshen up downtown to my perceived mismanagement of Global Entertainment, and from the emergence of Youngstown as America’s 9th most dangerous city to the emergence of new businesses and organizations in the area, and not to mention a mass emergence of Youngstown blogs recently.

I’ve also amassed over 6,000 hits, a respectable number though I’m sure if I wrote regularly (no unannounced weeks to months off) it’d be higher. Oh, well. It’s great people read this site at all is what I think.

So as I begin the second year on this blog, expect another one of those hiatuses soon. The latter part of August and into September is a busy time for me, but I’ll get a blurb in when I can. Aside from that, expect some of my strongest writing yet on whatever hits the area next.

That’s all I have to say for about this milestone. Back to blogging.

Be Grateful

18 07 2007

I haven’t left the site again for no reason again; this time I took a vacation to New York, and I experienced some things that make me glad to live here. You can drive to pretty much anywhere in a reasonable amount of time, compared to the New York/New Jersey subways to get around the city or surrounding areas in the same amount, for one. There’s also that really interesting smell permeating the air wherever you go. The city has plenty of other faults, but they help define NYC and don’t exactly detract from the many awesome things to do should you ever visit.

But aspects of the two biggest highlights of my trip got me thinking about, of all things, the Chevrolet Centre. It happened over the course of two days: one day, I was at Shea Stadium for a Mets game, the next at a Yankees game in the House That Ruth Built. They are true throwback stadiums, ballparks that will be demolished soon and have housed some of the most colorful, storied teams in baseball, and judging by media reports the people of Youngstown would have a heart attack were they ever to visit one of them.

The Vindicator, along with Jay Williams, have been voices for people here who complain about how high the concession prices are at the arena. The people who say these things must not get out too much, because after going to these ballparks I would demand these people start rejoicing at how good they have it as far as the price of food is concerned.

The Chevrolet Centre is a minor league venue, housing minor league sports teams, and shoud therefore have minor leagues prices, right? Already accomplished, compared to what some people say. True, The Vindicator comparison showed Eastwood Field and Canal Park may have been lower in some areas, but even their highest prices were well below venues in Cleveland and Pittsburgh. And then New York makes us look like a soup kitchen.

Consider this: at Shea Stadium, water is 4 dollars a bottle, and a hot dog is 4.50 or $5, depending on which kind you like. Sodas are in two sizes, costing $3.50 or $6. Yankee Stadium’s prices are comparable, but what really got me was the price of beer: $7.50 for a Bud at Shea, and a full $8 for a bottle at Yankee Stadium. And people still buy this stuff.

So what do you think of those prices? Feel like complaining to Boston Culinary some more? 

I guess all I can say is be grateful. Be grateful you can watch hockey and not take out a loan for beer and a dog.

Youngstown Film

5 07 2007

Hi everyone. Hope you had a good 4th of July, and tomorrow, Youngstown Film will kick off its Summer Classic Movie Festival with a showing of “To Kill a Mockingbird” in the McKay Auditorium at YSU’s Beeghly College of Education. It may not be a vintage movie palace, but the chance to watch a bona fide classic film and the price of admission (FREE) certainly makes up for that.

Before their innaugural screening, I talked with YF’s Michele McBride to find out a little more about their organization and what they plan to do.

New YTOWN: How do you like the current accommodations at DeBartolo Hall? Do you think about a change of venue at all?
McBride: I think DeBartolo Hall is, in itself, a nice layout for screening films because of (1) the number of seats, (2) the auditorium seating and (3) sound and screen size. The downside is that a lot of people are hesitant to come to the YSU Campus but it is important to us that the films remain in Youngstown proper and our venues are limited–although we have had several offers to screen films in various locations downtown but none seem to be a good “fit”.

New YTOWN: Are you looking to expand your operations beyond the summer months?                                                                                                                               McBride: We are beginning a monthly indie in September after the conclusion of the Summer Classic FF. I wanted to remind people how great old films are in the cinema setting and then get some new stuff into the area. We already have a number of fantastic first-run indie films lined up. The first is a series of films shot by American National Guardsman while in Iraq.

New YTOWN: Are you at all discouraged about establishing an organization to show independent films? Personally, I’ve found some indies to be great, but do you think the failure of Austintown Movies indicates the Youngstown area isn’t interested in those sort of films?                                                                                                                              McBride: Sherry Weinblatt and I started Keep It Reel to keep the Austintown Theatre open. In that instance it was not the lack of interest in indie films but, rather, the confluence of third party operators, theatre owners looking for big profits and other issues that were far afield from indie cinema. I have had so many people tell me that they want to see movies that they have seen either in other cities if they are new to the area or that they went to in college out of the area, etc. The interest is there. We need the right combination without too much interference.

New YTOWN: The “Summer Film Fest” consists of classic films and runs on Thursday night. Depending on the success of these screenings, would you consider the prospect of an “actual” festival like Sundance/Cannes/Toronto?                                                   McBride: I’ve spoken with folks at YSU and others in the local arts community who are extremely interested in having a juried film festival which could be possible with the right support from the community.

New YTOWN: On your website, it says you’ll screen films from the AFI list of 100 great movies. Was this list your first choice for the selection basis, or did you look at lists like the National Film Registry? I ask because the AFI seems to include films labeled as “classics”, and while NFI-listed films like “Network”, “Boyz n tha Hood”, and “Sex, Lies, and Videotape” wouldn’t be considered classics, they’ve had considerable impacts on filmgoers and still spark widespread discussion.                                                            McBride: Although I agree that other films have been deemed American classics which are more on the fringes, etc. but the AFI remains the definitive source for classic cinema and, as a member, I vote for the 100 films each year (BTW Network is on that list). Also, the goal for the summer film fest was not obscure but the familiar in an atypical setting (not on TCM on your TV but larger than life in a true theatre setting).

New YTOWN: What do you think is the significance of independent film, and why should they be shown in Youngstown ?
McBride: Indie film is a loose term these days. I believe that true indie films are the vehicle to getting people out into the community to see films together rather than sitting at home removed to watch film. A lot of these movies can only be seen in larger cities but Ytown needs to recognize that it can make a home for culture and stimulating film and need not be apologetic or riding on the coattails of Cleveland and Pittsburgh. Being a native, I recognize the tendency of other natives who have, as I have, returned to the area to be apologetic or resigned to the fact that Ytown contains no cutting edge artistic expression.

New YTOWN: This organization is something I’ve only heard about through the Youngstown blogs. Do you go anywhere else to promote this?                                   McBride: We are just getting started! We wanted to take advantage of this time of year to get people out to films and we plan on being a fixture in this area. One independent movie house in downtown Ytown could do wonders for connecting current business and encouraging others. As an attorney I have done limited work with real estate in Youngstown and I know that it can be a possibility with the right people being in the right place.

New YTOWN: Do you see this organization expanding further if successful?
McBride: Like all attempts to revitalize Ytown, this effort has to remain relaxed and patient and, in the meantime, bring people something interesting and cutting edge. I recently attended the Tribeca Film Festival and some of these theatres looked like something that could be found in Ytown. It IS possible—besides, how many truck shows and bars can you go to before your mind demands more!

Thanks Michele, and we look forward to Youngstown Film’s events and what they’ll be doing in the future. Once again, YF will present “To Kill a Mockingbird” this Friday at 7:00 in the McKay Auditorium at YSU’s Beeghly College of Education building. And for more information, visit .

A thought on education

1 07 2007

 I’ve been hard at work this week, and we have a double feature today! Scroll down for a second new story.

As you know, the Youngstown City Schools, in addition to being in the middle of a massive financial crisis, have also had dangerously low test scores for years.

People who don’t know about education (i.e. politicians) will point out that they’ll hold accountable schools, teachers, administrators, faculty et cetera when it comes to funding. The state department of education insists teachers must be “highly qualified”. Whenever a district fails, many will point their fingers at teachers first, saying they don’t do their job well enough, and that they need to be re-assessed or replaced, because a state report says the kids aren’t as smart as those in other communities.

A letter to the editor in today’s Vindicator paints a different picture. The full letter is here, but I’ll give you the gist: a life-long south side resident named Richard Giles points to his three sons and how the people of the Youngstown City Schools have served them well. His eldest son was a valedictorian at Wilson in 2003, recently completed his BA in chemistry from the College of Wooster, and will now work toward a Ph.D. in organic chemistry on a fellowship at USC; his second son (also a Wilson grad) received scholarships to YSU and is majoring in biotechnology; his third son will graduate from Chaney in 2009, and has received recognition from different events like State Science Day. By all accounts, they’ve all received a fine education comparable to one you might find in districts Ohio has previously declared “excellent”, like Boardman, Poland or Canfield.

But what about every other student in Youngstown?

This issue is a bit more personal for me. My mom taught in Youngstown up until a couple years ago, and while I may not have seen her in a classroom, outside of school I can say she did her job. She made lesson plans at home, she graded papers at home, she put a lot of things for her classes together at home. In short, she knew what she was doing, and after a while it annoyed and angered me when she talked about parents coming in, demanding to know why their kid was failing, and if anything could be done to bring their grade up.

It probably doesn’t cross their minds that their kids just don’t care; they’ve probably never thought for a second to hold their kids accountable. Just put blame on the educators.

And Mr. Giles points to this in his letter. “the parents and students also share that responsibilty,” he wrote, “it truly does ‘take a village to raise a child.'”

And with that statement, some personal effort, no matter where you live, can result in a good education. I had a buddy who shrugged off the emphasis of high school kids needing to find “a good college”, saying realistically, when you reallly think about it, that ANY college is a good college and give you exactly what you need for your career. It depends on the individual, and whether or not they want to apply themselves. And it’s the same at any level. Kids in Youngstown can have test scores comparable to any other district in Ohio if they put in effort, and people who don’t know about education should know that. I don’t claim to be any expert in the field, but I firmly believe what I say because that’s what I did (and still do) in school, and it served me fairly well.

I, too, fall victim

1 07 2007

Wednesday, I had a doctor’s appointment that took me to the north side of Youngstown. It was a quick, get in/get out check-up, and since I had this day free I left home with my camera and afterward proceeded downtown to walk around and snap more pictures (there’s always a new perspective I haven’t captured yet somewhere).

After circling around Phelps and Hazel streets, passing by city hall and police headquarters and looking at the faded Segram’s sign on the old State Theater, I passed through the back alley south of W. Federal to look through the fence at a hole in the ground that will eventually become the Youngstown Technology Center. I walked down the rest of the alley, past the loading docks of the old specialty stores on Federal toward Home Savings, but as I kept looking over my shoulder, and as I, in my normally paranoid way, try to remember whether or not I locked my car, I found I was having some of the same sentiments of people who are vehemently anti-Youngstown.

I don’t know why I felt that way. I’ve been downtown dozens of times and never felt unsafe. It was like a point of pride for me that I could tell friends who hyperbolicly think Youngstown is nothing but a giant gang territory I freely walked downtown’s streets without worrying. Maybe I had a heightened paranoid feeling, maybe I was overly pessimistic; whatever the reason, I fell victim to the naysayers who flood the forums and formerly bashed the city on Dems17.

Personally, I can hardly believe myself. I’ve been in the neighborhoods of the east and south sides of the city, parts that routinely make the news for violent crime and places most of my friends would never dare to go within five miles of. And while I may have been barely with the borders of this area, I have walked in the infamous South Central Los Angeles, home of the L.A. Riots and a place where most decent people, and certainly no tourists, would think of going near either. Unless for a USC game, I suppose.

This fear, I guess, is a result of the anti-Youngstown attitude that is basically ingrained in any kid from the suburbs as a result of local news, what we see/hear about “ghetto/urban culture” or whatever you want to call it and apply that to at least the fifth power to the city and what they’re told by their parents. And I believe the latter has the most impact. I think Bill Cosby is far removed from the best comedian of all time (each is own), but his recent schtick of criticizing parents is gold. He may be referring to inner-city parents in particular, but it can apply to everyone. If you’ve ever read the forums, you know about some of the amazingly long tirades some go on about suburbanites needing to turn their backs against Youngstown and not support anything associated with it. If you read the Defend Youngstown blog from last week, a Vindicator letter to the editor, a Boardman resident terms Youngstown “a failing city” and a place suburbs like Boardman, Austintown, Canfield, Struthers and Campbell should isolate themselves from. These people will repeat what they type to their kids, and they’ll develop the same attitudes and it becomes a generational thing that the suburbanites just spit on Youngstown.

My family never practiced this, but I have friends who are genuinely believe Youngstown is a horrible place. A few weeks ago, I even text messaged a friend, saying I’m on my way to Youngstown to get something to eat, and the response was :

“Dude u might get shot”

At least some of this was in jest, but at least some of this was also out of many people’s perceptions of the city.

We all talk about changing people’s views on the city by just taking them down there for a meal or a beer or an event downtown, but that’s an individual basis. Maybe a more vigilent approach is needed. It could be on a regional scale, but Youngstown could learn from Cleveland and the efforts of then-mayor George Voinovich’s efforts to re-build the city’s image in the early 1980s. Voinovich, elected when the city’s finances claimed default, took a defensive stance on any anti-Cleveland comments, and the Plain Delaer worked aggressively to proclaim Cleveland as “The Plum” (as opposed to NYC’s  Big Apple). It may sound a bit ridiculous now, but the relentlessness to prove the city wasn’t all that bad paid off in the form of positive national media coverage.

Given, Youngstown would not have to advertise itself on a national scale, but a tenacity such as Cleveland’s on the local level may make suburbanites think twice about the center of our region. At present, the local news does a decent enough job reporting on positive stories on the area, but like anything else in life, it can always be done better.

As I said before, I don’t normally think so pessimistically as I did, but it’s probably something people who don’t normally go downtown worry about when they are there. The situation could change, but it takes the help of a lot of people. Beyond the city, trustees/mayors of the suburbs need to grasp the concept that neighboring communities are better when they work together, and not by a “fend for yourself” mentality. And the vocal minority may never be silenced, but other people outside the city- ones willing to have an open mind- deserve more positive coverage around the city, not just the crime scene reports, and maybe they can also be convinced Youngstown isn’t that bad of a city.

And yes, I am one of these suburbanites. I am not in the least uncomfortable in admitting this, and I even think it goes to show there is a vocal group of people outside the city who promote it and not denounce it.