The phones at Youngstown CityScape’s offices were still ringing Thursday afternoon with people calling to volunteer for Saturday’s Streetscape – the Real Stemulus planting and cleanup event.
In CityScape’s main conference room, most of the packs of T-shirts for people already registered were picked up.
“People want to be back and they want to be out,” said Sharon Letson, CityScape’s executive director.
Forced to take place as a virtual event last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Streetscape is back as an in-person event Saturday, just as the majority of pandemic-imposed restrictions are being eased.
So far, more than 450 volunteers from around the Mahoning Valley have signed up, Letson said. That’s down from the more than 700 who participated in the 2019 Streetscape, a decline she attributed mostly to 200-some students from Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership who have participated in past years not participating this year.
“That really accounts for our biggest fall,” she said. “I’d say that our numbers are pretty typical, and we’re still getting people calling and registering.”
Many aspects of the event will be different this year because of the pandemic. Many volunteers will go directly to their assigned worksites rather than gathering on Central Square at the beginning of the event. They also won’t assemble downtown for lunch after completing their tasks and instead will be given gift cards for downtown restaurants.
“We know how to plan for a typical year. We have a committee that works all year long to do that,” Letson said. “This year was this planning and pivoting process, and so even up to this week we didn’t think we would have a tent at all, but we are in fact going to have a tent on Central Square. We’re not going to eat together but we are going to have a tent. People can come in, get their assignments. We also emailed people their assignments so they can go right to their station and work.”
CityScape purchased 100 yards of mulch, which city street department workers are distributing to designated sites in and near the downtown area, as well as plants. Planting and mulching locations will include multiple sites downtown, Harrison Commons in Smoky Hollow, Wick Park and Crandall Park.
In addition, 25 different neighborhood groups throughout the city will participate, more than have taken part in the past, Letson said.
“What we do is we share flowers and mulch with them,” she continued. “The only thing we ask is throughout the season that they take pictures and send them back to us, so that people really begin to feel this connection between all the work that’s happening throughout the whole city.”
CityScape raised more than $30,000 in contributions from more than 100 donors, she reported. Donors include Brilex Industries Inc./Taylor-Winfield Technologies Inc., Covelli Enterprises/Covelli Centre, the city of Youngstown, Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, FactSet Research Systems Inc., MS Consultants Inc., John Perdue Inc., Platt Insurance Group, The Youngstown Foundation, Youngstown State University, Oh Wow! The Roger & Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science & Technology, HBK CPAs & Consultants and Ohio One Corp.
There are multiple personal and professional reasons for Oh Wow, which recently reopened downtown, to support Streetscape, said Suzanne Barbati, president and executive director.
“The appearance of the downtown encourages people to visit downtown,” which CityScape is responsible for making that happen, and does so on a “shoestring budget,” Barbati said. “We know how important that is, not just for our guests but for everybody who comes downtown, whether they’re working on playing.”
Warren-based Covelli Enterprises has naming rights to the city-owned Covelli Centre. The two organizations jointly have been the T-shirt sponsor for several years, said Ashlee Mauti, marketing director for Covelli Enterprises.
“We are proud to support the 24th annual Streetscape event and enjoy seeing the volunteers come together to help the community we love,” she said. She also expressed the company’s appreciation to CityScape for “putting on a great event” and to the volunteers for their efforts.
MS Consultants, which is headquartered in downtown Youngstown, is “happy to support beautifying the downtown” as a Streetscape 2021 sponsor, Krystal Piasley, communication and brand manager for the engineering and architectural firm, said.
“As a local business and community partner, we’ve been incredibly fortunate to see, first-hand, the overall improvements and investments in the area. CityScape’s impact on the downtown landscape matches the local commitment and dedication,” she added.
In past years, volunteers met downtown for a lunch donated by downtown restaurants. This year, given the difficulties the restaurant industry in particular faced because of the pandemic, CityScape decided to purchase the gift cards to provide a stimulus – or “stemulus” – for the downtown businesses, according to Letson. In addition, it is purchasing doughnuts from OH Donut Co. for volunteers when they arrive to further support downtown business.
The support for downtown businesses “goes hand in hand” with the efforts of CityScape’s Downtown Youngstown Partnership and “the kinds of things we’re trying to do with our business community downtown to continue to move us all forward in a positive direction,” Letson said.
HBK and Platt Insurance sponsored the lunch gift card purchases.
“It’s a great way to get people in the doors of these restaurants,” said Stephen Horne, HBK senior manager. “It’s a nice incentive to stimulate the economy.”
The past year has been difficult for downtown businesses, said Ellie Platt, president and owner of Platt insurance and DYP chairwoman. Handing out the gift cards is “a great way to just infuse some dollars back into downtown businesses to support them and also expose the volunteers who come from all over the Valley” to the downtown restaurants.
“There are several new restaurants that started over the last year during COVID, and it’s a great way to introduce the community to them and support the ones that have been here all along,” she added.
“It’s a way to give some incentive for people to come down and try a restaurant. It’s a way for us as a [community development corporation] to be able to help our downtown businesses in some small way,” Letson said. “It was our way of giving back to them.”
Platt Insurance and HBK are among the organizations that will be represented by volunteers from their companies.
Horne said he has participated in Streetscape about 10 years. HBK, which has its local office in Canfield, will have a group of about 20 volunteers between employees and family members.
“Downtown could use the beautification. A lot of people are still hesitant about coming downtown and it’s important to keep the corridors and the downtown looking nice and inviting,” he said.
CityScape has been doing “amazing work in downtown Youngstown before people were even down here,” Platt, who also has volunteered with Streetscape for several years, said.
“It’s definitely a value of Platt Insurance to invest in our community,” she said. “We really look at organizations in the community doing good work and want to come alongside them and support them.”
Platt Insurance, which is headquartered in Howland Township, will have a group of 12 volunteers, the largest group she has brought. The vast majority will be Trumbull County residents. “It’s really a great way to show them what’s happening in downtown Youngstown.”
Originally published by the Business Journal - Youngstown Publishing Co.