Over many of the past 150 years, a wide swath of land under the Market Street Bridge on the southern edge of downtown Youngstown stood prominently as a blazing behemoth of heavy industry.
From its early years as a site for the manufacture of steam engines to its heyday as a producer of gargantuan rolling-mill steel units weighing up to 100 tons each, the site of the former Wean United factories holds a prominent rung in the proud but gritty history of our region.
And thanks to a generous nearly $2 million gift from the foundation that was founded by the Wean family, that parcel of property will continue to leave an indelible mark on the city and the entire Mahoning Valley for years and decades to come.
On Wednesday, Youngstown City Council unanimously voted to accept a $1,875,000, 15-year deal with the Warren-based Raymond John Wean Foundation for naming rights to the 21-acre riverfront mark sandwiched between the Covelli Centre public arena and the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre.
The grant will be used to maintain the park and to pay the $40,000 annual salary for the community engagement and inclusion coordinator who will oversee events there.
The Raymond John Wean Foundation Park, tentatively scheduled to open next month, will feature 1.25 miles of walking trails and 20 acres of recreational space. Long-term proposals for attractions within the park also include space for sports, community gardens, a children’s play area, a dog park and even a family water park.
“The park will serve as the new front door to downtown, but most importantly it will create opportunities for residents to engage in community activities and come together,” JAC Management Group President Eric Ryan told our broadcast partner, 21 WFMJ-TV.
GIFTS TO PARK, AMPHITHEATER ADD UP
The Wean gift also is the latest in a series of about $6 million in donations to the riverfront park and amphitheater complex by private institutions that collectively reinforce the wisdom of the public-private partnership that is rapidly reinventing the aesthetics and energy of downtown Youngstown.
All of those benefactors merit our community’s appreciation and thanks. In addition to Wean, the Youngstown Foundation has awarded $3 million over 20 years for the naming rights to the 4,500-seat amphitheater. The others are $500,000 over 10 years from Huntington Bank for naming rights to the community alley under the Market Street Bridge and $500,000 from Home Savings Bank to sponsor a series of free or low-cost community events and attractions over the next 10 years.
The new Wean gift also continues a long and proud tradition of the foundation and advances its proactive mission of community enrichment. The foundation doesn’t just throw money at problems or help fill temporary budget holes.
Instead, it works to identify specific social, educational, cultural and economic needs and works to solve problems, strengthen the community and improve residents’ lives.
The Wean donation clearly satisfies each of those goals. Most importantly, the gift strengthens the character of downtown by adding its first large tracts of green space with ample recreational opportunities.
The development also celebrates the renaissance of the Mahoning River, which helped to establish Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley as an industrial giant in the 19th and 20th centuries. We hope supporters of that river’s ongoing revitalization continue their efforts in earnest to complement the new riverfront park development.
Wean Park, however, already has become transformational for the downtown. For years, the property stood as a bulging eyesore metaphoric of the city’s heavy industrial decay over the decades.
Symbol of renewal
But today, it rises as a symbol of healthy and robust renewal that is spreading throughout downtown and into all quadrants of the city.
Jennifer Roller, president of the Wean Foundation, has set her sights high for the future of the park.
“We look forward to the Wean Park being filled with the diversity and vibrancy of residents for years to come,’’ she said.
From our perspective, we look forward to watching Wean Park evolve into a centerpiece for Mahoning Valley recreation. With such a civically responsible partner as the Wean Foundation, we are confident that the park will fast become a prime downtown destination for Valley residents and visitors alike.