Wednesday, January 31, 2007

And so it begins

It has been expected for a long time now, but the financially strapped Forum Health system has taken the first major step to shut down its Youngstown operations, namely Tod Children's Hospital and Northside Hospital. The complex on Gypsy Lane has existed since the early 1900's, first as City Hospital - Northside Unit and then became a part of the Youngstown Hospital Association which became the Western Reserve Care Center before that was bought out by Forum.

It was announced today, with Forum Health's approval, that Akron Children's Hospital is partnering with St. Elizabeth Health Center to take over pediatric services currently offered at Tod Children's Hospital. Once the deal is finalized and approved, Tod Children's Hospital will close and patients will eventually be transferred to St. Elizabeth's new Boardman hospital, which is under construction. Akron Children's will be in charge of running the new pediatric unit and the neonatal intensive care unit.

It is incredible that just 11 years ago, we had four acute care hospitals in the city limits (Southside, Northside, St. Elizabth's, and Youngstown Osteopathic) plus Woodside (psych) and Tod's (children). Within two years, we will have just one. A quick look at this list shows just how many hospitals have closed in Ohio in the since 1980.

In the long run, the closure of Forum Northside and Tod Children's is inevitable. Many of their problems, outside of poor management, come from a horrible public image, primarily regarding patient care. For some reason over the years they have developed an image of being a "welfare hospital". I don't necessarily think that it true, but a lot of people do. Operating a health care system is expensive but having a poor public image while trying to do it makes it damn near impossible to operate in the black.

Regardless of the issues surrounding this closure, it is nice to see the Forum Board is putting some plan into action. A quick closure of Forum without any transition plan would sink the hospital system in Youngstown. St. Elizabeth's would be swamped and it too would probably crumble. It has neither the funds nor the beds to take on the weight of Northside. Hopefully some future outside help like we see with Akron Children's, some better management from St. Elizabeth's, and the addition of the Boardman hospital will help secure the hospital system within Youngstown.

NOTE: I found this link on which is a copy of the letter recently sent to all Forum Health employees announcing the closure.

Quote of the Date

"It reflects America ... a cross-section of America that we know and love," Bishop Murry said of the ethnic diversity of the diocese.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Master plan leaves Wick-Pollock in shadows

Master plan leaves Wick-Pollock in shadows

YSU administrators announced the Wick-Pollock Inn renovations two years ago, saying that they were to begin in late 2005 or early 2006. In 2004, Sweet told The Jambar that the mansion and its rock garden would be at the core of YSU's restoration mission. Currently, there are no restoration plans in the works for the inn until a developer is chosen, Sweet said. Sweet's ultimate vision for the inn is to some day turn it into a hotel, while using it as a learning laboratory for the hospitality students from the College of Health and Human Services. "I'm actually in conversations with three different developers as we speak," Sweet said.

All of this is a shame. The Inn is one of those buildings that could be a focal point for Downtown Youngstown and instead it sits empty and forgotten. Kudos to the YSU Student Government for taking an interest in the gardens but shame on the University for letting the rest of the property wallow.

The Pope's foot soldier

Well, after only two years of guessing and waiting, the Diocese of Youngstown finally has a new Bishop. Catholics in the area had all but given up, believing that the Vatican had forgotten them. Not so I guess. Considering that the previous bishop, Tom Tobin, was sent to Rhode Island the week Pope John Paul II died, one could imagine that Pope Bendict XVI was a little busy getting the house in order to worry about Youngstown. Regardless, one has apparently been named.

The winner? George V. Murry, SJ. According to his biography on the website of the National Black Catholic Congress, Murry was born in Camden, New Jersey, in 1948. After graduating from Catholic Elementary and High School, he attended St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia, and St. Mary's Seminary and University in Baltimore, Maryland. In 1972, he entered the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) and was ordained to the priesthood in 1979.

Bishop Murry holds a Masters of Divinity Degree from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley and a Masters of Philosphy and Ph.D. in American Cultural History from The George Washington University, Washington, DC. Bishop Murry has served as a University Professor, President of Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington, DC, and Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs at the University of Detroit before being appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago by Pope Paul II in 1995. He was appointed Bishop of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, July 1999.

Interesting to see a Jesuit come to Youngstown. This has not been a traditional stronghold area for the Jesuits, who tend to maintain communities in big cities and near their schools. The nearest Jesuit communities are in Cuyahoga Falls at Walsh Jesuit High School and in Cleveland, at my alma mater, John Carroll University.

Bishop Murry has a large and difficult task ahead of him. He must lead a congregation that has dwindled in numbers, closed schools and lost priests to retirement. These problems are Church-wide and not unique to Youngstown, but still they exist and must be tackled. A failing Church in Youngstown means a failing City. With Youngstown on the rebound, there is no reason the Church can't keep pace.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Youngstown near top for at-risk mortgages

Youngstown currently ranks behind only Memphis and Detriot in the at-risk mortgage market according to the CoreLogic, a Sacramento, Calif.-based provider of residential mortgage risk management services. They examined 379 metropolitan statistical areas for its data on at-risk mortgage markets. Rounding out the top five highest risk markets are Warren, Michigan, and Indianapolis, Indiana.

"From low unemployment to high foreclosures, our data indicates that mortgage risk and fraud will continue to play an important role in the overall health of the housing market," said Mark Fleming, chief economist for CoreLogic, in a statement. "Fraud and collateral risk are still on the rise, as is foreclosure activity, but the silver lining is low unemployment and a small increase in house price appreciation."

Lincoln arrives in Youngstown

The headline could easily be from an 1860's issue of the Mahoning Regsiter but instead, it refers to the latest acquisition by the Butler Institute of American Art. It was just revealed that the Butler obtained Norman Rockwell's ''Lincoln the Railsplitter'', the first Rockwell in its collection. The price? A mere $1.6 million. This is the Butler's first Rockwell, closing a gap in its massive collection of purely American art.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Looking back

Youngstown blogs

I will blog Youngstown

In getting back into this, I have found a large collection of new bloggers to add to the rolls. You can see some of them on the links section to the right. This may have had something to do with it.


For each Youngstown native with a college degree, there are two vacant properties.

Fifth Avenue Historic District

Another apology for my lack of postings. This article was supposed to be the impetus to get me to continue my posting on this board. This was in the Vindicator on Christmas day and presents a special look at the the Fifth Avenue Historic District. Well worth the read.

Three groups work together to ensure that the striking neighborhoods will be preserved.


YOUNGSTOWN — When Ted Szmaj bought his home on Fifth Avenue in Youngstown eight years ago, he had no idea he was moving into a neighborhood listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

He chose his home for its character, charm and quality construction — and inadvertently settled in the nation's most affordable historic district.

That designation was recently bestowed on the Crandall Park–Fifth Avenue Historic District by Old House Journal, a magazine focused on preservation and restoration of historic homes. The magazine's article said houses in that area cost about $110,000 each.

Mark Peyko, president of the North Side Citizens' Coalition, said the organization is delighted that a national publication has recognized Youngstown and its reasonably priced housing. "I think the affordability is a reflection of the affordability in this whole area," he said.

The historic designation has brought a dollar appreciation, especially to the homes along Fifth Avenue and added value in people's minds, Peyko noted. "More care is being given to a lot of the homes now," he said.

About the area

The Crandall Park-Fifth Avenue Historic District encompasses an L-shaped area roughly bounded by Tod Lane, Ohio Avenue, Redondo Road, Catalina Avenue, Guadalupe Avenue and Fifth Avenue from Gypsy Lane to Fairgreen Avenue. The district covers 1,200 acres comprising 126 buildings and two structures, most of which are residential, according to the National Register's Web site.

The community is one of two North Side neighborhoods placed on the National Register in 1990. The other is the Wick Park Historic District.

To be classified as historic, a property must be at least 50 years old. Most of the Crandall Park-Fifth Avenue homes were built between 1900 and 1930. It must also hold historic significance.

In this case, that historic value is related to an event and architecture/engineering, Peyko said. He believes the event was the development of Youngstown by the steel magnates.

The Crandall Park neighborhood was originally built as a planned housing development, according to Peyko. The former Realty Trust Company developed the property to serve steel executives, bankers, doctors and business owners.

Prominent residents

Some of the notable people who lived in the historic area were Joseph and Dora Schwebel, founders of the Schwebel Baking Co.; shoe store magnate Joseph Lustig; clothier Bert Printz; black lawyer and legislator William R. Stewart; architect Morris Scheibel; florist Harry Walther; and industrialists Myron Israel Arms II, George Brainard, William Wilkoff, Myron Curtis and Frank Purnell.

"The orientation of the homes to the park was designed to create a setting that people would want," Peyko said.

Norma J. Stefanik, urban designer with the Center for Urban and Regional Studies at Youngstown State University, moved into the Crandall Park area because of the older homes.

"I am a preservation architect and I just loved the details, the craftsmanship and the materials," she said.

Most of the homes, which vary from 11/2-story bungalows to large mansions, were designed by architects, Peyko said.

"Even though some of them are smaller, they still have their own personality and character. To duplicate that type of work [today] would be extremely expensive," Stefanick noted.

Desirable features

Homes in the Fifth Avenue corridor boast amenities such as original hardwood floors, marble and granite fireplaces, double-sized lots, classic kitchens with original cabinets and butcher block countertops.

The architecture and setting along with proximity to YSU, downtown and hospitals attract many home buyers to the area, said Gayle Gillespie, real estate agent for Coldwell Banker First Place.

Gillespie, who has been selling homes on the North Side for 18 years and also lives there, said the figure quoted in the article is not totally accurate. "Prices for homes on Fifth Avenue, Tod Lane and Gypsy Lane now range from $130,000 to $320,000," she said. Homes on the neighborhood's side streets, appraised between $80,000 and $120,000, more accurately reflect the magazine's assessment.

Patrick McBane, president of the [Crandall] Park Side Neighbors, put down roots in the neighborhood 18 years ago because of the urban multicultural flavor.

"The mixed neighborhood in terms of ethnicity was attractive to us," McBane said. Equally appealing was the living space. "My wife and I do a lot of entertaining and these homes really lend themselves to entertaining. You can have 25 people in your home and not feel like you're crowded," McBane added.

Time of change

The Park Side Neighbors came together 20 years ago when the closing of the mills, migration to suburbs and death of longtime homeowners brought transition and crime to the area.

"Because the houses were so big, upkeep was difficult," said Szmaj, president of Fifth Avenue Boulevard Neighbors.

Large homes were being divided into rental units.

"One of the biggest reasons for seeking the historic designation was to preserve what was left," said Szmaj.

Members of the North Side Citizens' Coalition spent much of the 1980s assembling research materials, photographs, maps and other documentation necessary for inclusion in the National Register.

Those who live in the neighborhood now say there is a feeling of camaraderie. "There's a great sense of community for our group," McBane said. All three groups work to continue improving the North Side and address problems that may arise.

The Park Side Neighbors hold bimonthly meetings and host three or four social functions each year. Because the group maintains a very active block watch, McBane said crime is minimal. "We have no major issues happening within our seven- or eight-block corridor."

The Fifth Avenue Boulevard Neighbors recently sponsored a Christmas tour of homes to raise money for a historic district permanent marker and create awareness. The group has marked six of the neighborhood streets with historic plaques. Its goal is to erect 19 more signs at neighborhood intersections.

"It will instill pride in the neighborhood and give recognition that this is a historic district," Szmaj said.

Getting to Know My Downtown in the Third Grade

3rd-grade pupils to learn about city
Monday, January 22, 2007
The city schools found an innovative way to meet state education standards.



YOUNGSTOWN — Some 600 third-graders in the Youngstown City Schools will be getting guided tours of the city's downtown area this fall in a program designed to give kids some knowledge and ownership of their community.

"Getting to Know My Downtown in the Third Grade" is a joint effort involving the city schools, the city, Youngstown CityScape, Youngstown State University, Ronald Cornell Faniro Architect Inc. and the American Architectural Foundation, all of whom are putting in either money or services to launch the $17,000 effort.

It's all part of finding an innovative way to implement state academic content standards for the third grade, said Pat Bradley, supervisor of social studies K-12 and kindergarten for the city schools.

Part of those standards directs that third-graders must be educated about their communities — past and present, near and far.

In Youngstown's case, that involves learning about the city's history and becoming familiar with the downtown district, its architecture, physical features, its government and more, Bradley said.

Understanding community

"Third grade is a good time to begin understanding their community," she said, adding that it helps them know who they are and where they come from.

"We looked for what we could do to help kids learn about and learn to love downtown," said Holly Burnett-Hanley, a research associate with YSU's Center for Urban and Regional Studies, who is helping design the program.

The project will look back 200 years to Youngstown's beginnings as a river town and explain how it grew and changed to what it is today, Burnett-Hanley said.

Youngstown's program will take an interdisciplinary approach, Bradley said.

It won't be just social studies but will involve work in the language arts, math, art, science and technology.

The effort is being aided by Matt Farragher of Youngstown, a Ball State University graduate student who is assisting with developing the program standards and teacher guide for his doctoral thesis.

Rather than just talking about the community in the classroom, the program will be a "hands-on project," Bradley said.

The children will build models of the downtown and get "trip-tiks" (similar to the AAA travel guide TripTiks) for a guided tour of the downtown to look at landmarks and building architecture and visit places such as city hall and the county courthouse to learn where government is located and how it works.

Connecting past, future

The third-graders will not only get a sense of what the buildings look like today and how they are used, but a look at their history and their future under Youngstown's 2010 revitalization plan, Bradley said.

They will also visit places such as Powers Auditorium and The Butler Institute of American Art to help get a broader sense of their community.

Faniro will build a 3-D model of the downtown district for use by the pupils as well as participate in developing the program materials.

A committee of third-grade teachers representing each city elementary school is involved in drafting the teacher guides for the program, which is to be implemented in the fall.

It's all designed to give the children some perspective about where Youngstown is coming from and where it is going.

They are the future of the city and knowing about their community will help them become responsible citizens, Bradley said.

USA Today: Youngstown, Ohio and the shrinking city

This is what McPaper (USA Today) had to say about Youngstown in a recent article. There is a very good article on the shrinking cities such as St. Louis and Richmond here.

Youngstown, Ohio, is an exception. It has fully embraced its shrinkage. The population, now about 83,000, is less than half what it was when the steel industry collapsed in the 1970s.

"You look at the facts and come up with solutions," chief planner Anthony Kobak says. "The first step the city has come to terms with is being a small city."

Youngstown approved a 2010 plan. The goal: "A safe, clean, enjoyable, sustainable, attractive city," Kobak says.

The city long was better known for gritty steel mills than green space. Now that the mills are gone, there is plenty of space. With the help of a grant, Youngstown preserved 260 acres. It's targeting neighborhoods and redesigning them with the help of residents who stayed.

The city may let homeowners buy abandoned lots next door to create gardens. It's considering relaxing zoning rules to allow small horse farms or apple orchards. It's offering incentives for people to move out of abandoned areas.

"If you had three or four square blocks that at one time had 40 homes per block and now have maybe five homes total, we could relocate those people across the street and convert the vacant area into a large city park," Kobak says.Residents would live be living across from a park rather than being surrounded by decrepit homes and lots overgrown with weeds.

"If we're looking to preserve an area for green space, we may offer that person relocation money rather than rehab money," Kobak says.