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Encouraging investment

No longer just the regional airport’s operator, WRPA improves real estate

YOUNGSTOWN — The Western Reserve Port Authority has evolved over the past 15 years from being mostly the operator of the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport into also being a big driver of economic development.“We went from running the airport, to creating the economic development arm that mostly did incentive programs, to growing it into a brick-and-mortar approach and improving real estate,” said Anthony Trevena, port authority executive director.Trevena was hired as economic development director in 2015, replacing Rose Ann DeLeon, who was hired in 2009 and remained director through 2014.

Former U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Howland convinced local leaders in 2008 to fund the position first filled by DeLeon, saying the Mahoning Valley needed to take advantage of the tools available to Ohio port authorities to acquire, lease, develop and sell property, issue bonds and save developers money.

The first funding was $375,000 per year for three years from the Mahoning and Trumbull County commissioners and the cities of Youngstown, Warren and Niles, Howland Township and the Western Reserve Building Trades Council. In about 2012, additional bed taxes were added to stabilize funding.

In the early years after DeLeon was hired, many of the projects involved a tool called a capital lease, which encouraged developers to come to the Valley by offering an exemption on sales taxes on construction materials.

Projects such as the Hollywood Gaming Mahoning Valley Race Course in 2013 and privately developed student apartments near Youngstown State University in 2016 benefited from the capital lease tool. It was also used 2019, when the port authority provided a capital lease to the TJX Warehouse project in Lordstown.

But the economic development team of Trevena and Sarah Lown, the port authority’s public finance manager, started to focus on real estate projects around 2017 following a meeting with Warren Mayor Doug Franklin about properties Warren owned. The idea continued in Mahoning County.

The first Mahoning County project involved the Harshman building at 101 E. Boardman St. in downtown Youngstown. The port authority bought the building in 2017, renovated it in 2018, and Eastern Gateway Community College has been using it as its health and workforce building for several years.

When the port authority takes over a piece of property, improves it and turns it over to company that can turn into a productive enterprise, it creates a positive ripple effect on the other properties nearby, Trevena said.

“We want to improve a critical asset so that those ripples going out improve values,” he said.

“We’ve seen that already,” Trevena said. “Where we tore down the (Chemical) bank building (on Market Street in Youngstown), since then the Taco Bell was redone, you’re seeing more people investing in that area. When we invest in a neighborhood through a commercial property, you will see others in that area do the same.”



The start of the port authority’s work on real estate projects was in Warren with the signing of a cooperative agreement in 2018 whereby the city turned over nine properties to the port authority, which has improved and sold a number of them.

An Ohio port authority has the ability to buy and sell property without some of the requirements of a city — such as going out to bid, selling to the lowest bidder and selling it at the appraised price, Trevena said.

One of the first properties in Warren was the former SCOPE senior center on West Market Street just west of Courthouse Square. The port authority worked with developer Mark Marvin, who developed it into the CharBenay’s on the River winery.

Other early projects included property near the St. Vincent DePaul food kitchen on Niles Road that the organization acquired for expansion.

More recently, the port authority acquired idle land on Warren’s southwest side to create the 81-acre Warren West Industrial Park. Lots of parcels were combined to create the industrial park, including Deemer Park, the former Warren Western Reserve High School site and the former Westlawn neighborhood.

Ground is expected to be broken as soon as this spring on the first speculative building at the former Westlawn site, said Wiley Runnestrand, managing partner with West Warren Development LLC, which plans for the suite to be suitable for mid-sized modern manufacturing, warehouse / distribution and research / development.

“There were over 100 parcels in there,” so it would have been difficult for a developer to work through the details to combine them, Trevena said. The city owned part of the land, and the Warren City Schools owned the former school property.

“We did the site work to survey it, platted it, put it all into a parcel,” Trevena said. “At a recent port authority board meeting, all of the parcels were given to the port authority and we sold it to this developer,” Trevena said.

On this project, the developer paid the appraised value for the land, and the port authority is distributing the money to the city and school district.

The port authority also acquired the former Mickey’s Army-Navy building on Main Avenue downtown in November of 2020 and sold it to Marvin.

The port authority later received a donation of about 1,000 acres of former RG Steel / Republic Steel property through a donation by Chuck Betters of BDM Warren Steel Holdings.

“We are the steward of that property. There’s about 200 acres that we are doing a Phase 2 (environmental study) to see what remediation needs to be done,” Trevena said. “The other 800 has what is called a covenant not to sue, so it can be developed. We’re working with other interested parties to potentially develop it into a large opportunity like manufacturing. We’ve been showing the property to (companies) looking for large plots of land for development. We’re hopeful to restore that to productive use and see jobs on that site again soon.”

The port authority also helped the Trumbull County Historical Society secure a building on Mahoning Avenue in Warren in 2019 the organization will use to expand its programs.



The port authority’s real estate development story in Youngstown unfolded in a more personal way, when the port authority found itself needing to move its own offices from a building called Penguin Place on Champion Street because Penguin Place was going to be demolished for a student-housing project.

“We knew (Penguin Place) was going to be torn down for student housing,” Trevena said. “We knew we would need a place (for our offices), so we looked for a building. We thought why don’t we buy the Harshman Building? We had plotted out where our offices were going to be, who we were going to rent it to.”

The port authority thought it was going to rent parts of the building to Eastern Gateway, but the community college ended up turning it into its health and workforce building, and the port authority moved into another space.

“And the rest is history,” Trevena said. “We realized this type of redevelopment was a real critical need for the community.”

“We have an engineer, Randy Partika, on staff, who oversaw the construction. The next thing you know we are creating jobs, as well as a place for students in workforce development, so we’re looking for those niche opportunities,” he said.

In January of 2020, the port authority acquired the former Chemical Bank building at the corner of Midlothian Boulevard and Market Street in Boardman at the border with Youngstown. The cost was $1.

“The bank was demolished, and a Dunkin’ Donuts and ATM are there now,” Trevena said.



In recent months, the port authority has done multiple commercial-property revitalizations in the Mahoning Avenue corridor on Youngstown’s West Side. But it’s also focused on Market Street on the city’s South Side and Belmont Avenue on the North Side because downtown buildings are not readily available, Trevena said.

The port authority looked at several buildings along Mahoning Avenue in Youngstown in 2022 before deciding to acquire the building at 1586 and 1588 Mahoning Ave. that was once Dave’s Auto Parts. There was a tax delinquency on the buildings, so the Mahoning County Land Bank acquired it and donated it to the port authority.

“We put new roofs on them, and then we had them abated from any hazardous materials, a little asbestos and paint, had them cleaned and prepared for sale,” Trevena said.

“And now Voyager Coffee is in renovation to put their retail coffee shop in there. Their (coffee) roasters will use the other building there, so that building is back in productive use.”

The port authority also acquired the former Clark Bar in 2022 through the land bank.

“Apartments are being renovated upstairs, and the lower level will be prepared for whatever business would like to obtain it. Part of the work is bringing the building up to code,” he said. “Were looking for the right entrepreneur who will put a productive business in there.”

In late February, an open house was held at the former Sweet Arrangements store at 1528 Mahoning Ave., which the port authority acquired at the urging of Youngstown Councilman Mike Ray to help stabilize the neighborhood.

“What was unique about that one is that our team has been such great stewards of these types of properties that Councilman Ray came forward and gave us $200,000,” Trevena said. The money was Ray’s allocation of American Recovery Plan funds for the city’s Fourth Ward. Trevena said the building will probably be ready for purchase and occupancy in about five months.

Former Fifth Ward Youngstown councilwoman Lauren McNally, now a state representative, also allocated $300,000 of her wards’ s ARPA funds for property acquisitions, renovations or vacant property clean up in her ward, he noted.

“So that is a half a million dollars toward the efforts we were already doing,” Trevena said. Investment in the Mahoning Avenue corridor has reached $1.25 million so far.

The port authority also bought the 23-acre former McGuffey Plaza Site on McGuffey Road on the East Side in 2022. Recently, Youngstown Councilman Jimmy Hughes said he would sponsor legislation to use $250,000 of the city’s American Rescue Plan funds toward cleanup of the site and make it shovel ready for potential developers.



The port authority has added staff in recent years.

Nick Chretien, executive director of the nonprofit Economic Action Group, also now works for the port authority. Chretien and his staff share office space with the port authority in the City Centre One building on East Federal Street downtown.

Another recent hire is Krista Beniston, former Boardman zoning inspector, who was hired after the port authority acquired the former RG Steel / Republic Steel property.

She is overseeing a $324,000 U.S. Economic Development Administration aviation grant that addresses “what we can do with our property at the airport,” Trevena said, as well as another grant for Air Heritage Park, also in Vienna.

She is also able to assist the port authority on zoning related matters for the RG Steel / Republic Steel project because the property is in several political subdivisions, Trevena said.

The port authority also now employs Eric Sussman, who worked for the former owner of the RG Steel / Republic Steel site. Susman oversaw the demolitions and cleanup at the site. Sussman is now superintendent of the port authority properties, including the airport.

Trevena said the port authority had to “shift gears” when it started to take on properties such as the steel mill site. With Beniston and Sussman on staff, the port authority can “self perform a lot of work in-house,” Trevena said.

Lown, who has done economic development in the Youngstown area for decades, said the port authority struggled in its earliest economic development efforts because of the economic downtown at about the time DeLeon was hired and because of the newness of the concept.

“Our board was not really ready to think about economic development at the time,” she said. “They were oriented around the airport.”

“When Anthony came on board, he brought so much more experience — national and statewide experience,” said Lown.

Lown also serves as executive director of the CASTLO Industrial Park in Struthers and is director of the Mahoning County Community Improvement Corp. She also managed the port authority’s work starting in 2020 to renovate former Youngstown Developmental Center on Countyline Road in Mineral Ridge.

After $3.5 million of investment, the facility is now the Campus of Care, which provides social services to the community’s most vulnerable populations through a number of organizations.

“As the father of a special needs child and having many, many friends with children with those challenges, to see that work is one of the greatest things I’ve ever been a part of,” Trevena said of the Campus of Care.

“Sarah, Randy (Partika), the county commissioners, the (Mahoning County) Mental Health and Recovery Board — what a true collaboration. I wish everybody in the community could see it. It would everybody so proud,” Trevena said of the Campus of Care.



As executive director, Trevena also has responsibility for the airport, which the port authority owns and operates. The focus is on securing daily air service again. It carried out a study of possible opportunities to do that.

“We believe Youngstown is absolutely in position to return to service, and we continue to have those discussions,” he said.

He said a pilot shortage makes it difficult for smaller airports to get daily air service from a commercial airline. “The airlines are very judicious where they go,” Trevena said. The local airport’s most likely service will be to leisure destinations like Florida — the type of flights Allegiant Air operated until it stopped service in 2018.

He said continued education of the public about the importance of the Youngstown Air Reserve Station, which uses the airport’s runways, is important because the reserve station has more than 2,000 employees, making it the biggest employer in Trumbull County and second largest employer in the Mahoning Valley.

“We fight every day to keep our air base here. It’s a big economic driver,” he said.

The other type of aviation at the airport — private, corporate air travel — is “rapidly growing,” Trevena said.

“When you’ve got Foxconn, TJ Maxx and Ultium Cells and the other corporations here — AVI is one of the largest vending companies in the nation. You’ve got the Cafaro Company. You’ve got the owner of the (San Francisco) 49ers here,” he said of John and Denise York and their family.

The airport is also home to a campus of the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics, which graduates 120 to 130 students learning to be aviation mechanics each year, Trevena said.


Significant events since 2008

2008: Former U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan urges Mahoning Valley communities to invest in economic development by creating an economic development arm of the Western Reserve Port Authority, operator of the Youngstown:Warren Regional Airport.

2009: Rose Ann DeLeon hired as the port authority’s first economic development director.

2013: Provides capital lease to Hollywood Gaming Mahoning Valley Race Course through powers granted to port authorities to save companies the cost of sales taxes on construction materials.

2015: Anthony Trevena hired as economic development.

2016: Provides incentives to assist development of private student housing near Youngstown State University.

2017: Begins to focus on projects to improve commercial real estate to increase property values and neighborhoods, including the Harshman Building in downtown Youngstown.

2018: Expands focus on real estate projects into Warren with a cooperative agreement with the city. Leads to the redevelopment of the former SCOPE Center downtown into a winery.

2018: Daily flights at the airport through Allegiant Air end.

2019: Helps the Trumbull County Historical Society secure a building on Mahoning Avenue in Warren to use for expansion of services.

2019: Provides capital lease to assist in the development of the TJX warehouse in Lordstown.

2020: Acquires the former Mickey’s Army-Navy store on Main Avenue in Warren and sells it to Warren developer Mark Marvin.

2020: Acquires the former Chemical Bank at Midlothian Boulevard and Market Street in Boardman, demolishes it, making room for a Dunkin’.

2020: Begins management of project to oversee upgrades needed to turn the former Youngstown Developmental Center on Countyline Road in Mineral Ridge into the Campus of Care.

2021: Acquires the former RG Steel / Republic Steel property south of Warren, carries out an environmental study and markets it for redevelopment.

2022: Acquires several commercial properties in Youngstown, improves them and markets them for redevelopment.


SOURCE: Tribune Chronicle and The Vindicator archives

MAY 14, 2023    ED RUNYAN