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Mayor: Merge Community, Development Departments - The Business Journal

Combining community development and economic development into one department is “the right thing at the right time” for the city, Mayor John McNally says, a goal he wants to meet by early 2015.

City voters will consider a charter amendment to form such a department now that City Council has approved placing the measure on the November ballot. Merging the two departments and eventually combining them in a single space will improve communication, he said. Community development is in the City Hall Annex while economic development is in 20 Federal Place.

The merger, which requires voter approval, was among the recommendations made in an efficiency study the PFM Group prepared two years ago, he said. The community development budget continues to shrink each year, staffing needs in that department are beginning to fall because of the loss of federal and state funding and Youngstown Community Development Corp. is helping the city with much of its community development and planning work.

McNally has asked the economic development office to focus on the major corridors in Youngstown and work with its smaller businesses.

“We have business parks that are full. We have Vallourec [Star] that’s doing well. We have a downtown that is starting to grow and has its momentum,” McNally said.

“But we need to develop that same type of momentum in our neighborhoods and our business corridors like Glenwood Avenue, like South Avenue, like Belmont Avenue, the Wick Avenue corridor and the neighborhoods that shoot off from them,” he continued.

Following City Council approval at a special meeting last month, voters will vote on whether to amend the city charter and create the merged department.

Some duties in the two departments overlap, said 7th Ward Councilman John Swierz, who supports the reorganization. “Combining them with one department head and subdivision leaders is a smart way to go about making our government more effective and more efficient,” he said.

McNally and Swierz, along with the heads and representatives of city departments, took part in a forum Friday afternoon sponsored by the South Avenue Area Neighborhood Development Initiative (READ STORY).

The need to upgrade the major corridors is something Swierz and McNally discussed during the 2013 mayoral campaign, and the councilman supports McNally’s plan to focus on the corridors “because everything leads to downtown,” he said. Swierz cited South Avenue as “a perfect example” of the need to set priorities because of the distressed properties and businesses that have left. The South Avenue Area Neighborhood Development Initiative successfully campaigned to get some of the properties taken down, he reported.

South Avenue is “a challenged corridor,” McNally acknowledged, not just directly along the road but the side streets that branch into its neighborhoods. While some demolition has taken place along the corridor -- with more to come on South as well as on LaClede and Dewey avenues -- the city is looking to find a “benefactor” to fill a role similar to that of Community Corrections Association, which cleaned up and maintains once blighted properties on Market Street.

Both the South and Wick avenues corridors “have to be major focused on the next year or so,” he said.

Should city voters approve the amendment, McNally expects to solicit applications for the newly created position of director of community and economic development and have someone in place by Jan. 1. He doesn’t see much separating the two functions.

“Obviously the most important qualification is demonstrated experience in economic development,” the mayor said, “both at the larger level and at the smaller level, whether it’s in the neighborhoods or dealing with larger development projects.”

Often small-business owners are unaware of the assistance available from the city.

“We have to do a better job of getting out there and speaking to them about that,” McNally said. “Our staff has already started to do that.”

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