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EPA chief tours Youngstown

YOUNGSTOWN — The nation’s top environmental official Wednesday was in Youngstown to tour two brownfield sites, including the former “dealership row” on the North Side, and be briefed on the city’s redevelopment strategy.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler also visited the downtown Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre on his breeze-thru visit that doubled as a promotional stop for the agency’s brownfield grant program.

The program has awarded more than $7.7 million to communities and nonprofit groups in Ohio for assessments and cleanups at brownfield sites since 2017, including $200,000 to Youngstown.

“Historically, the return on investments for brownfield grants are some of the highest of any federal program,” Wheeler said. “One study found that property values of homes near revitalized brownfield sites increase in value between 5 and 15 percent following the cleanups.”

Another study found that every $1 of brownfield grants spent has produced a return of $17 in private and public funds in the community, he said.

Since the program’s start in 1995, more than $32 billion in grants have been given across the U.S. Those dollars, Wheeler said, have leveraged more than 167,000 jobs in the cleanup, construction and development industries.

“These EPA funds combined with on-the-ground work in the communities reinforce the idea the environmental protection and job creation can take place at the same time,” Wheeler said.

He was joined on the tour by Mayor Jamael Tito Brown, some members of his executive team and city council, Republicans U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson and state Sen. Michael Rulli of Salem, and local economic development and other officials.

Wick 6 on Wick Avenue formerly was a cluster of auto dealerships. The city has secured control of the major sites in the corridor and is working on an acquisition and development strategy for the surrounding properties to expand investment and development.

What might become of the area?

“Just close your eyes and think and imagine, we have to reimagine,” Brown said. “I’m not saying it to be funny, but just imagine what’s there … some say it could be housing, some say it could be retail. We are right there at the university, so there are opportunities and assets that are already there. It’s a great neighborhood, so we have some stable institutions that may want to expand. The industry is limitless.”

Another potential attraction to redevelopment of Wick 6 is it is in a federally designated opportunity zone, an area where private investment is incentivized to spur development. That’s done by offering reduced and deferred capital gains taxes to investors.

The 4,800-seat amphitheater on the banks of the Mahoning River was where steel was made and stored for decades. Youngstown acquired the property in 2014 and with more than $2 million in funding help from the state, tore down the structures and restored the land.

rselak@tribtoday.com

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