The city of Struthers will begin the process of taking down a dam in the Mahoning River by closing the river to traffic inside city limits beginning Monday.
And even though there’s plenty of time before the waterway reopens, Mayor Catherine Cercone Miller is already looking forward to the possibilities of what can follow.
“This is something that we’ve been wanting to do for a long time,” Miller said. “We have big dreams and big ideas going forward.”
Miller and other leaders of communities along the Mahoning River got a look at several possibilities during Friday afternoon’s meeting of the Mahoning River Corridor Mayors Association.
Representatives of MS Consultants in Youngstown and NBBJ, a Columbus architectural firm, presented an overview of the final draft of the Mahoning River Corridor Revitalization Plan and highlighted potential projects for each of 13 cities, townships and villages the waterway runs through.
In addition to walking the officials through renderings of the proposals, they showed a video conceptualizing how a revitalized river corridor would create economic and social opportunities for the communities.
Over the past 14 months, MS Consultants have met with stakeholders and targeted engagement with community residents, said Shannon Fergus, operating leader of urban planning at the Youngstown firm.
“It creates a regional vision for connecting our communities, protecting our river and our wildlife and creating prosperity for our communities through economic development,” she said.
Economic development would be promoted in the plan by supporting industries that already exist along the Mahoning River; creating new mixed-use opportunities where people can live, work and play along the river; or creating recreational tourism opportunities.
“One thing that COVID has really shown is that folks would love to be able to utilize the natural resources around them,” Fergus said. “For Mahoning and Trumbull counties and the Mahoning valley region as a whole, this river can really be that recreational asset that not only people who live in this region can enjoy but that can hopefully attract folks from all over the state of Ohio and even Pennsylvania.”
Lowellville is already experiencing the benefits of increased recreational activity following the removal of its dam last year. Mayor Jim Iudiciani said he sees increased kayaking and fishing, which has translated into more business for stores, bars and restaurants. A canoe livery and restrooms to serve the recreational area are coming soon, he said.
Options for the river communities included lodging along the river in Braceville Township, creating a bridge to the peninsula in Warren to better connect it to Courthouse Square, horseback riding in McDonald, providing whitewater opportunities in Struthers, capitalizing on the presence of Raymond John Wean Foundation Park in Youngstown and developing a nature center and wetland exploration area in Niles near the middle school. Fergus also discussed the possibility of establishing a continuous greenway along the river through the communities.
Struthers is in the process of securing 20 acres from Astro Shapes Inc., Miller said, and is working on a kayak and boat launch.
“It’s nice to see what’s going to happen in all the communities, especially what’s going on in Lowellville,” she said. “I just kind of look at all the pictures here and pick and choose what we would like to see in Struthers. We’re going through comprehensive planning right now so this is really beneficial to us.”
Connecting the peninsula to Warren’s downtown has been a longtime part of the vision of city leaders as well as businesses in the commercial district, Mayor Doug Franklin said. Elements of the proposals overall reflect the strategic plan for along the river he said the city would unveil publicly in a few weeks.
“This matches that to a tee,” he said.
The plan does what communities across the country have successfully done in terms of blending economic development and components of environmental conservation and recreation to improve the lives of people who live here, said Sarah Lown, coordinator of the Mahoning River Corridor Mayors Association and public finance manager of the Western Reserve Port Authority, which oversees the group.
“This has been a project long in the pipeline, to use the river as a catalyst to change the profile of each of the small cities and townships up and down the Mahoning River,” she said.
Among the projects proposed, both Lown and Fergus were attracted to the fact that Newton Falls’ downtown is connected by both branches of the Mahoning River.
Lown called the opportunity “a symbolic and physical gesture to unify a community.”
Consultants will meet individually with officials in the river corridor communities to discuss implementation plans before the plan is finalized and presented to the public this fall, Fergus said. The team will then work with the Western Reserve Port Authority and Eastgate Regional Council of Governments to identify funding sources for projects, which will be prioritized.
She also emphasized that the plan is intended to serve as a jumping-off point to spur discussion of possibilities.
“We don’t want anyone to look at the specific priority site plans that we put into the plan and think that’s what’s going to definitely happen,” she said. “This plan is really a 10- to 20-year vision for what can happen.”
Originally published by the Business Journal - Youngstown Publishing Co.