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McNally Pursues Focus on Neighborhoods, Corridors - Business Journal

With the downtown moving in the right direction and people from outside the city headed here for shows, dinner and other entertainment, a renewed focus on the major corridors to the downtown is among the priorities Mayor John A. McNally IV has set for this year.

The end of 2014 saw one of his goals reached, consolidation of the economic development, community development and planning offices into one department. He tapped T. Sharon Woodberry to lead it.

In November, voters approved a charter amendment that permitted the consolidation of the departments. One goal of the new department is working with businesses along the corridors and residents in neighborhoods they connect to form associations that will have “better interaction with City Hall on a daily basis,” McNally says. Such efforts have begun on South Avenue in cooperation with Coca-Cola, which has “taken some initiative on that endeavor,” the mayor reports.

The South Avenue group will kick off its organizational phase with a 10 a.m. meeting Jan. 21 in Metro Assembly Church, says B.J. Duckworth, an account manager with Coca-Cola and one of the principals of the group. Coca-Cola has a bottling operation on East Indianola Avenue.

“We cannot first start to make change without first being organized and unified. So setting up a steering committee will be a big goal,” Duckworth continues. “The second goal will be working to unify the business so we can all work together to share services, help the residents that patronize our businesses and improve the conditions for business within the corridor. Safety will be a big focus as we will try to set up venues for the business to share information with each other about shoplifters, bad checks, et cetera.”

Another corridor McNally’s administration is studying is U.S. Route 422, the mayor says. “We’ve started some discussions with some business owners in the Salt Springs Industrial Park about forming a business association there,” he says. “I’d like to do the same thing on Glenwood Avenue with some of the viable small businesses in that corridor. So we’re off to a pretty good start. But that is one of the main aspects that this community planning and economic development staff will be involved in.”

A Glenwood Avenue association is being formed, in part, to respond to the announcement of a Bottom Dollar Food grocery store closing there along with its other stores, all of which were purchased last year by Aldi Inc.

The McNally administration has informed Aldi that if the supermarket chain does not intend to keep the store on Glenwood open, it wants the property returned to the city, which donated the land, “so we can either look for a grocery tenant or figure out some other community use for the building,” McNally says. The city has also requested that the store on East Midlothian Boulevard revert to the city as well.

Establishing business associations is an element in each of the eight neighborhood plans written by Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp. Since November 2013, YNDC has provided neighborhood planning services for the city.

After completing a “comprehensive assessment” of neighborhood conditions, YNDC began what Executive Director Ian Beniston characterizes as “an extensive neighborhood engagement effort” in late winter and early spring last year. That engagement consisted of more than a dozen neighborhood meetings and some 50 stakeholder meetings.

“The important and core findings from our outreach were that residents and stakeholders are eager for more progress in housing and property issues, infrastructure repair and maintenance, community and safety, and economic development particularly along neighborhoods,” Beniston says.

YNDC used its findings, based on the data collected, to analyze to develop a twofold strategy that encompasses the development of detailed and specific neighborhood plans and a citywide improvements, he says.

“The citywide strategy focuses on best practices, policy changes, funding opportunities, process improvements and other strategies that can be used to make changes at the citywide level on the four priorities identified by residents and stakeholders: housing and property issues, infrastructure, crime and safety, and neighborhood economic development,” he says. Efforts to execute the plans are underway and will continue this year, he says.

In addition, “action teams” for neighborhoods that include Rocky Ridge and Powerstown have begun meeting regularly with others set to begin in other neighborhoods for which plans are complete.

The neighborhood plans are “really going to serve as a blueprint and probably a checklist of things that the city has to help accomplish not only in 2015, McNally says, but over the next four or five years.”

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