YOUNGSTOWN - Presley Gillespie said he believes the city is at a crossroads and a bill championed by U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown may be key to helping them go down the right road.
At a news conference Tuesday morning in front of an abandoned South Side bakery, Gillespie, Brown and others said the Project Rebuild Act would help cities get rid of not just vacant housing stock, but also vacant and blighted commercial properties.
Gillespie, who heads up the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp., said cleaning up neighborhoods is important because it leads to more private sector investment when they see that work is being done to improve neighborhoods, and that could be enough to turn the tide back to reinvestment.
The Project Rebuild Act is discussed by U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown.
Already, a new grocery store has been opened in the neighborhood, and across the city there are more such projects getting set to start, he said.
''We believe we are at a pivotal moment in time for our city and region,'' Gillespie said.
The bill was introduced in the Senate March 6 by U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., with Brown listed as one of 10 sponsors. Brown, D-Ohio, said giving communities the resources to get rid of blight will let local officials make more changes.
Tribune Chronicle / Joe Gorman
DeMayne Kitchen, chief of staff to Mayor Charles Sammarone, examines part of a vacant bakery on the South Side on Tuesday.
''It will make a difference in these neighborhoods in Youngstown as they try to come back,'' Browns said.
The Project Rebuild Act would build on the Neighborhood Stabilization Act, Brown said, and he added that the stabilization act also enjoys bipartisan support in Congress. Brown said the problem of vacant and blighted buildings is a common one in suburban and rural America as well.
Project Rebuild would provide up to $15 billion to allow for communities to tackle their building problems in any way they choose, such as buying, renovating or demolishing dilapidated structures.
Supporters claim Project Rebuild would give jobs to 191,000 people and deal with 150,000 properties across the country.
Brown held his news conference in front of a 1941 Glenwood Ave. building that at one time had been a bakerry but now was open to the elements and filled with trash, including a broken toilet, broken television, and countless empty bottles of beer and other types of alcohol.
DeMaine Kitchen, former 2nd Ward councilman and now chief of staff to Mayor Charles Sammarone, said Project Rebuild is crucial because it invests in neighborhoods, which need to be improved so cities have a solid base to build on.
''If we're going to rebuild America, it starts in our neighborhoods and communities,'' Kitchen said.
Mary Lynn Ruth, the executive director of the Youngstown Playhouse, which is just a couple of doors from the building, said she made a decision three years ago to stay on the South Side and said Project Rebuild would help the playhouse because it will improve the area around it.
''It's important for the playhouse for it's image and how people feel driving down Glenwood Avenue,'' Ruth said.