Yes, you can

The first time I saw the new Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre was long before I stepped into it Friday.

It was maybe eight years ago, and the amphitheater was on a piece of paper. The Covelli Centre was on one edge of the paper; Market Street bridge was another edge. This amphitheater idea was sandwiched in between – back by a line scribble that portrayed the railroad tracks.

What I saw Friday was not that idea from eight years ago. It was better. It was surreal. It was beyond Youngstown.

But it was Youngstown.

That must be the takeaway as the 2.0 version of the Covelli Centre now takes flight.

It can happen here. It just takes the collective will of public and private groups, the courage of a few, the patience of many.

Get this:

The amphitheater and 22-acre downtown park idea survived four mayors in 10 years. Find a city that has had such change (i.e.: struggle) just in that lead position.

It was built in a depressed economy and in a city that can’t afford to plow or pave roads quickly enough.

The project lost its political champion in former Mayor John McNally.

It survived a political foe in Mayor Tito Brown.

It had much of its money tied to site manager Eric Ryan’s role in the project – which was challenged at times.

It had its community and council crutch in the hands of Councilman Julius Oliver and his appeasement.

Those four large personalities swayed in and around the project’s path – coming together enough and staying in their own lane enough – to create what will be the next catalyst for a new Youngstown. It will be that despite events such as Saturday’s rain that washed out the second night.

I’ve said before that I feel from the Covelli Centre gamble, you can attribute:

A downtown hotel, new restaurants, downtown residents, OH WOW!, Tyler Center, a Youngstown Cityscape interest that grows and more.

These additions were possibly projected in the earliest debates about building Covelli. But were they expected?

Now this comes along: 22 acres of green space on a former brownfield in the heart of downtown, a 5,000-person event venue for half a year, a rain-proof gathering space under Market Street Bridge, 1.2 miles of walkways and more.

I offer this vision: By 2020 or 2021, the day-in-day-out appeal of the 22 acres for six-plus months per year begins to answer the 2.75 percent income tax question that the city has not been able to answer for company exits or entries. This new space – and what else it potentially creates – answers that tax in a way that the Covelli Centre and nice restaurants cannot.

I like that the project is a win, too, for city department grinders like Chuck Shasho, Kedar Bhide and Kyle Miasek.

Ryan’s role in this is not up for debate, even though some people will. He’s a loud voice and big presence – therefore a big target. He looks down three-year paths as well as anyone, and he weathered this eight-year odyssey.

What I perhaps like best about his leadership in all of this, and it ties back to the start of this article and that first piece of paper I saw on this idea:

Find a photo of the ribbon cutting from Friday, and when you do, find him in that photo with all the other leaders in the project.

You won’t.

He quietly slid to the background in that moment.

That piece of paper where I first saw this project eight or so years ago was a chicken scratch sketch like something the Wright Brothers first drew for flight. It was Ryan’s piece of paper.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.