YOUNGSTOWN — City council agreed to seek proposals to find a developer to overhaul 20 Federal Place, one of downtown’s landmarks.
Council voted 7-0 Wednesday in favor of permitting the board of control to advertise for proposals for the city-owned building.
“It’s an anchor for the city,” said Councilman Mike Ray, D-4th Ward. “Anything we can do to make it more productive is welcomed. We want to take it to another level. Repurposing and reusing the building is something we need to do if the investment opportunity makes sense.”
Steadfast City of St. Louis, the firm hired to redesign the building, is proposing a $34.5 million project that includes apartments on the upper four floors of the seven-story building at 20 W. Federal St. with technology firms, small businesses and meeting places on the second and third floors. The first-floor food court could be overhauled and the unused basement could be converted to a six-lane bowling alley, a bar and a malt shop.
The city needs to find a developer interested in purchasing the building — something it’s been unable to do since it bought the former Phar-Mor Centre in November 2004.
The sale came after Phar-Mor, a national retail store company, went out of business. Before that, it was the flagship location of Strouss’ department store for several decades.
Ehab Traish, owner / partner in the Mocha Boca Cafe in the food court, said he is encouraged by the news that the city wants to redevelop the building.
He said something is needed because there has been very little traffic in the food court in the couple of months he has been back open. He said a big reason is that VXI Global Solutions, a telemarketing company that is the building’s largest tenant, has been at reduced staffing levels lately.
Traish said the food court is typically empty by about 2 p.m. He closes up around 2 p.m. and said other businesses in the food court typically do also.
Hachem Jaafara, owner of the Capitol Grill in the food court, said business was down about 60 percent from normal levels in June and is now down about 40 percent from normal.
While Councilman Julius Oliver, D-1st Ward, voted in favor of the proposal, he said he has concerns.
“I think 20 Federal is a great asset to the city and we should explore all options,” he said. “If the city can develop it then that should be done. With the amount of money we lose, it’s good to put out the fishing line, but I prefer something done in-house.”
Also, Oliver, whose ward includes downtown, said the existing businesses at the building should be getting assistance from the city. Business has declined significantly at the building since the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.
Council on Wednesday also approved several pieces of legislation making it illegal to discriminate against African Americans because of hair styles including “afros, braids, twists, cornrows and locks.”
The prohibition against discrimination is in areas such as employment, public accommodations, housing and financial transactions. It’s known nationally as the CROWN Act (Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair).
It’s a follow-up, Oliver said, to city council’s vote in June to declare racism a public health crisis.
“This is the teeth to that declaration,” he said.
Also, council decided Wednesday not to vote on a new $65,000 contract with the Mahoning-Youngstown Community Action Partnership to run the city’s Human Relations Commission.
There was a lengthy discussion at Monday’s council finance committee about the proposal with concerns expressed about the lack of activity by the commission during the past few years and questions about why the annual contract was being increased from $52,000 to $65,000.
At Oliver’s recommendation, the contract was referred back to the finance committee for more discussion before a council vote.
Meanwhile, Erin Bishop, health commissioner, told council that a large COVID-19 vaccination clinic will be held April 1 at the Covelli Centre.
The city department is holding smaller clinics throughout the city. To register, go online to covid19.youngstownohio.gov or call 330-502-4276.
Reporter Ed Runyan contributed to this report
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