The City of Youngstown has partnered with the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber to provide some relief to downtown businesses impacted by the recent explosion at Realty Tower and other factors.

The two entities are bringing together key stakeholders through a public-private partnership to coordinate relief for those affected by a multitude of factors including the recent explosion at Realty Tower, as well as the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing road construction projects.

The Regional Chamber Foundation will serve as the fiscal agent for these relief funds starting with a $200,000 grant from the city. That money was paid to the Foundation during Wednesday's Board of Control meeting.

The Chamber's foundation will be able to accept donations from private individuals and organizations earmarked for business relief expert. All of those funds will go to affected downtown businesses.

"We want to do something very quickly here," explained Guy Coviello, President & CEO of Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber. "Even though it's not a large commitment, it's something that we can do very quickly. That is just the start."

Youngstown Mayor Tito Brown is quoted in a press release describing downtown Youngstown as the "backbone" of the city and highlighted how the factors listed above have caused great hardship to city businesses.

"It is critical that we not only get our businesses back open, but plan for a successful future by creating and realizing a long-term strategic vision for a vibrant Youngstown," Mayor Brown said.

"My team has had a hard time filing for unemployment," said Mark Canzonetta, Owner of Bistro 1907. "A lot of them haven't had their benefits received yet. So anything coming through right now is great news."

First Ward Councilman Julius Oliver is quoted saying city leadership is here to support these businesses during this time.

"This is an opportunity now for our entire community to come together and push Youngstown forward with a shared strategy and vision for a vibrant downtown," Oliver said.

Bistro 1907's doors have been locked for more than five weeks now. 

"A lot of our staff, thankfully, has been placed," Canzonetta added. "When we go to reopen at that point, it'll be their decision if they'd like to rejoin us. They have a huge decision to make for their families as well."

Canzonetta told 21 News they have not had any direct line of communication with the city. "21 News and other Valley media platforms are our main source of information. We don't have a lot of information coming into us from the city," Canzonetta said. 

Avalon Downtown has had to cut back on staffing and food orders with a significant drop in sales. Avalon Owner Anne Sabella told 21 News she can take what she can get but feels the $200k is a band-aid solution.

"I don't want to sound ungrateful," Sabella told 21 News. "The $200k is putting a band-aid on the solution and I hope more comes. How is it going to be rolled out? Our staff has applied for small business grants in the meantime. It's like we needed this money yesterday. 

The closing of DoubleTree, Realty Tower, and International Towers have a direct impact on downtown revenue.

"People don't realize how much business you get from a business," Sabella added. "With the DoubleTree closing, you don't have your wedding or after-wedding parties. It's a shame because if the hotel wasn't affected, it wouldn't have been as detrimental to some of us."

The Downtown Business Relief and Economic Development fund is also part of a broader revitalization plan, with more money potentially coming in the weeks to come.

"This particular grant program is just a small way of helping some of the small businesses dependent on foot traffic," Coviello explained. "We're going to be here a long time. We're going to be focused on downtown for a long time and this is just the beginning."

Canzonetta believes the City of Youngstown needs to implement a plan to attract guests downtown once the city is deemed safe. 

"That is going to be the most difficult part in all of this," he said.  

It is still unclear when the DoubleTree, Bistro 1907, and International Towers will reopen.

Deputy Director of Public Works Chuck Shasho said the city expects the building to be partially demolished by Aug. 2.

The City will decide which businesses will benefit from the grant on Monday, July 8.

Related coverage: