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City officials work to bring small business to Youngstown neighborhood - Vindicator

Councilman Julius Oliver, D-1st, saw a shipping container turned storefront in Cleveland and immediately thought the concept would fit here in Youngstown.

“We need to have something that is self-sustaining,” he said. “We want this to be the catalyst for change.”

The plan, which is in a conceptual stage, is to take the abandoned lots at the intersection of Hillman Street and Warren Avenue on the South Side and turn them into places for business and congregation.

The businesses will be inside the shipping containers. Surrounding them will be picnic tables and places to have people gather.

“We want a diverse collection of businesses,” said Jonathan Bentley, executive director of the city’s human relations commission. “We want to address the food desert. We want fresh meat and fresh foods. We want to diversify and do a little bit of everything.”

City officials, community organizers and residents gathered Tuesday at the Covelli Centre downtown to talk about the concept the city and other organizations want to bring to the intersection. The goal is to address the needs of the neighborhoods.

Bentley pointed out that decades ago, residents didn’t have to leave Youngstown to get what they needed to live.

“Once the steel mills collapsed, crime came in and that area became a hotbed for illegal activity,” Bentley said. “What we are trying to do is revitalize certain areas. It’s not only for generating economic revenue, but instilling hope.”

The project is expected to cost under $100,000 for the shipping containers and other costs. The funds are expected to come from grants and donations. The abandoned lots have various owners, Bentley said.

“We don’t see any issues with getting the land,” he said.

The tentative goal is to have the entire project completed by late August and early September.

The Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp. has offered to help clean up the lots.

“What we want to see is that there’s people behind it and supporting it,” said Ian Beniston, executive director of the YNDC. “We just want to work with as many people as possible to get things done.”

The Hillman Street and Warren Avenue intersection is the pilot area for this project. Warren Avenue intersects with Hillman, Market Street and Glenwood Avenue. If successful, the project will be replicated throughout other parts of the city.

“This site was important because it’s central,” Oliver said. “We want to see a transformation of the ‘hood’ back into the neighborhood.”

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