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Evicted 20 Fed tenants air complaints over short notice, relocation | News, Sports, Jobs

Evicted 20 Fed tenants air complaints over short notice, relocation | News, Sports, Jobs

YOUNGSTOWN — Christine Mechling arrived at work recently and discovered something disturbing and unexpected waiting for her on a counter.

“I called him and said, ‘Do you know anything about this?’ and he said, ‘What are you talking about?’” Mechling, manager of the Capitol Grill in downtown Youngstown, recalled.

Mechling told the restaurant’s owner, Hachem Jaafar, about a 60-day eviction notice that had been left to inform both of them they had to vacate the premises by Sept. 1.

Mechling and Jaafar were among tenants of 20 Federal Place who received eviction notices, and they shared their stories during a 90-minute town hall meeting Monday evening at St. John’s Episcopal Church, 323 Wick Ave.

Sponsoring the session was the Alliance for Congregational Transformation Influencing Our Neighborhoods (ACTION) organization.

Mechling noted that she and Jaafar have been spending time daily looking for another location for the restaurant, which has been at 20 Federal Place about 14 years. One possible site they are eyeing is the former Hub restaurant that was in the Legal Arts Building, which has been vacant since 2005 because of a fire.

Nevertheless, much work needs to be done to the Hub space, and such a move would be costly, Mechling said, adding that she also has to figure out how and where to move three rooms of equipment from the Capitol Grill. In addition, neither she nor Jaafar has received financial compensation from the city, Mechling continued.

“It’s just heartbreaking. Every day, we’ve been looking,” Mechling said, adding that the business was rebuilding its customer base because of the COVID-19 pandemic when the notice came.

WHY NOW?

The tenants are being evicted from the 332,000-square-foot, city-owned structure that is the site of the former Strouss department store and Phar-Mor Center because of a thorough remediation and demolition project, which will include asbestos removal and is estimated to take until late June 2023. In early December, the city’s three-member board of control signed a 60-day memorandum of understanding with Pittsburgh-based Desmone Architects to handle the project.

The city also has contracted with St. Louis-based Steadfast City Economic and Community Partners, which has scheduled individual meetings with the tenants beginning today. Steadfast is providing consulting services for the work.

Mayor Jamael Tito Brown has said he realizes the disruption to the tenants the work is causing. To that end, the city is moving forward to offer specialized assistance to those affected, he added.

SHOCKED

Another tenant who plans to meet with Steadfast officials was Kim Mitchell of New Castle, Pa., who owns Two Guys Clothing, a business that sells tuxedos, suits, shoes and other men’s dress wear and has been in the building about 17 years.

“I’m shocked. I’m very sick inside,” Mitchell told the several dozen community activists, concerned citizens and others at the meeting. “I get phone calls every day saying, ‘Kim, don’t close up.’”

The owner said she received her 30-day eviction notice July 7 and likely will find it difficult and tiring to relocate, partly because she has received orders for upcoming weddings and other special events. She and Mechling, however, both stated they intend to stay in downtown Youngstown mainly because of their established and loyal customers.

Vershanda Black, who runs Top Notch Meals, a made-to-order food business, said she’s been at 20 Federal Place more than a year and learned about her eviction from another tenant.

“I was shocked, devastated, confused,” Black added.

She began the business from her home, which allowed the entrepreneur to build a customer base before moving downtown. Black’s next move is to place her equipment in storage and focus on launching a mobile food trailer, she continued.

No one from the city administration attended the meeting.

WARD COUNCILMAN

City Councilman Julius Oliver, D-1st Ward, said he supports bringing additional businesses downtown, and that emptying the building is essential for the work. Nevertheless, Oliver was upset at what he said was the short notice the city gave those affected by the project. Oliver also was upset because discussions about the project began in November, which gave the city plenty of time to notify and prepare tenants for the changes, he said.

Losing the tenants in such a manner will probably negatively impact the city via giving the public fewer food options. It also could make other businesses that were considering locating downtown question that option, he explained.

Oliver added he wasn’t pleased by what he sees as poor communication between city officials and the tenants. The city needs to have “a far better small-business acumen when it comes to small businesses,” he said.

He encouraged the public to reach out to the tenants by calling city hall, for example. The councilman added he doesn’t know who will own 20 Federal Place after the project is finished.

TEMPORARY HELP

Derrick McDowell, a small-business owner who runs The Flea, offered to provide temporary and free storage for tenants’ equipment in the building he owns at 365 E. Boardman St., for which he has about 18,000 square feet of unused space.

It’s vital that despite the difficult situation the soon-to-be displaced tenants face, their contributions to building the fabric of the city should not be lost or forgotten, he said. He also urged the business owners at Monday’s meeting to make their voices and stories heard, including at the Steadfast sessions this week.

“I’m here to say that I’m here to help,” McDowell added.

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