The Phelps Street pedestrian walkway was officially opened Friday, capping the 11-month project and creating a focal point in the downtown entertainment district.
Mayor Jamael Tito Brown and other city officials cut the ribbon to the walkway at the morning ceremony as rain drizzled from the sky. The project turned the once-narrow street into an open and decoratively landscaped plaza. It removes vehicular traffic from the block and creates a corridor lined with bars and restaurants.
The pandemic and the onset of cold weather, however, means the walkway won’t be utilized as intended until at least spring. But Mayor Brown was looking to the future.
“Right now is a great time to celebrate,” he said, “to show, once we get past COVID, what we’ve got to look forward to.”
Brown said he sent a photo of the Phelps Street walkway to five friends last night, and three of them didn’t realize they were looking at a scene in Youngstown. He expects the project’s success to ripple through the city.
“Downtown is our heartbeat,” the mayor said. “Studies show that if you have a thriving downtown, it feeds into your neighborhoods, goes down your corridors.”
Work on the project has its roots in a pesky sewer line replacement that began in 2008, and continued longer than expected as problems kept arising, according to Charles Shasho, deputy director of public works.
Construction began on the $1.3 million pedestrian walkway in February. Marucci and Gaffney Excavating Co. was the contractor; Craig Mulichak of MS Consultants was design engineer and Annissa Neider was the architect.
With the utility replacement contracts included, the project cost $3.3 million and took more than a decade to complete.
The restaurants and nightspots on the block – which include Suzie’s Dogs and Drafts, Rhine Haus Bier Hall, Gringos Tacos and V2 Wine Bar and Trattoria, with Tequila Coyote opening in a few months – will be allowed to add patio seating in front of their locations.
A 15-foot wide swath must remain clear through the center of the walkway, said Shasho, to allow for emergency vehicles.
Discussion is also underway to open storefronts on the walkway for three lunch stands in the 20 Federal Place building, Shasho said. Renovations would be necessary to restore the street-front entranceways that once existed. “It’s a money issue now,” Shasho said, referring to the cost of the work and how it would be funded.
An elevated platform on the other side of Commerce Street is also part of the Phelps Street project and will be used for outdoor dining and programs. The vacant storefront that formerly housed The Kitchen Post restaurant is directly in front of the platform, as is One Hot Cookie.
First Ward Councilman Julius Oliver credited the vision of city officials and businesspeople decades ago for starting the renaissance of the once-empty downtown.
“Each mayor kept building on each other’s plans to keep the city moving forward,” Oliver said. “These were real ideas with real people behind them, and real money behind them… You had to be a pioneer back then to [invest in] downtown.”
Jim Kinnick, executive director of the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, said the Phelps Street project was “tough” because a lot of underground utility infrastructure had to be moved.
He pointed out that the gateway to the new Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre, which opened last year, is visible from the walkway.
Kinnick also mentioned the massive Smart2 reconstruction project along Fifth Avenue is underway just a couple of blocks away.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if at this time next year, maybe sooner, we’re cutting the ribbon on Fifth Avenue,” he said.
Originally posted: The Business Journal