Business leaders talk with Steubenville Council concerning city’s future
STEUBENVILLE — In a break from their usual routine, council heard Tuesday from a handful of business leaders about projects helping shape Steubenville’s future.
Councilwoman at large Kimberly Hahn, chair of council’s finance committee, said people tend to talk about what’s happening in other communities, “but good things are happening in Steubenville.”
“We wanted to highlight some of the things that were good,” she said.
Taking part in the presentation were Jacob Imam, Steubenville workshop and a new brewer coming eventually to Fourth Street; Franco Carapelloti, talking about development of the green strip at Franciscan Square; Isaac Sanford, discussing St. Paul Center’s new, $12.1 million conference center/headquarters; Scott Dressel, updating council on the Grand Theater renovations; Fort Steuben Mall Manager Trey Jeter with an update on the new owners and tenants; Judy Bratten, sharing plans for updates and expansions at Historic Fort Steuben and the Steubenville Visitor’s Center; and Kate Sedgmer, sharing thoughts on behalf of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce and its members.
— Imam said they like to describe the workshop as “a gym for woodworkers. Like gym junkies have the problem of not being able to fit large equipment into their homes or it’s too expensive, woodworkers are the same way. The equipment is either too large or too expensive for them.”
Located in the former Tri-State Printing property on South Thurd Street, the workshop opened at the end of April. “We’re still growing, we’re still new,” Imam said, telling council they have about 30 members and others who come in and out for specific projects.
“The majority of our members are there to use it as productive property — they’re looking to supplement their income” with things they make at the workshop, whether it’s cutting boards, chairs or anything else.
“We’re also starting to make some waves on Fourth Street for a few minor things we’ve been doing to the old appliance building there,” he added. That property is destined to become a craft brewery, and he said Urban Projects Director Chris Petrossi is guiding them through the application process for a Historic Facade grant. He said they already have a master brewer lined up, a man who moved to Steubenville from Arkansas.
“It’s a little ways out,” he said. “We’re probably looking at 10-12 months before we’re able to open the doors. We’re trying to be realistic — but realistic is tellng you we’ll be proud to serve you the finest pint of beer you’ve ever had.”
He told council the biggest problem they’ve run into is finding an architect willing to work within their budget. “We’re on our fourth architect now” he said, noting individuals who’d been recommended by the city based on their familiarity with code requirements “neglected to work within our budget.”
Other than that, he said they’d hired an out-of-state electrical company to do some work for them based on the firm’s guarantee that they were permitted to work in Steubenville, “not thinking that we needed to check on it, we just went ahead and hired them.”
Because the company didn’t have a city license, he said they had to hire a licensed contractor to redo some of the work.
— Franco Carapelloti said his goal with Phase 2 of the Franciscan Square development is to break ground later this year.
“Right now we’re looking at three buildings, one of them a four-story office building,” he said.
The extra space is tentatively designated for offices, retail and mixed use residential/retail, with potentially 10,000 square feet set aside for medical use.
“I’m working with Joe Luckino at Cedar One, talking to prospective tenants,” he said, noting they’d love to land a Chipotle or Chick-fil-A for the project but that depends largely on demographics.
Carapelloti told council their experience working with the building inspections team and others in city administration has been good.
“I know that comes up a lot, but honestly, our experience is good,” he said, noting any hiccups they’ve encountered tend to have been caused by someone “trying to cut corners and get done quicker than they should.”
“And it’s like Jacob said,” he added. “Having the right architect work on the project for you. All the issues we had on the first phase stemmed from that.”
He told 2nd Ward Councilman Tracy McManamon his advice to anyone thinking about developing at Franciscan Square or anywhere in the city is “find a good architect; warn them on our demographics, that’s a stumbling block when it comes to bringing businesses here; and don’t take shortcuts. There’s a reason you have to do things a certain way. You’ve got to pick the right contractor, too.”
Asked by Mayor Jerry Barilla what he considers Steubenville’s strongest selling points to outsiders, Carapelloti said it would be “family environment, it’s a great place to raise a family. The university is a great asset. Cost of living is a huge advantage, although it’s changed a good bit in the past year. Our schools.”
“But to get people to want to come here we need businesses to create jobs,” he said. “That’s going to be the big driver moving forward, to attract some type of job creator.”
— Sanford told council St. Paul Center will be breaking ground on a new, 26,700-square-foot building “exactly one month from today” at the corner lot across from Capri’s.
“We want people in our hometown to know who we are and what we do,” Sanford said. “We’re a Catholic apostolate, and we’ve branched out to handling many different things … we publish books, we host thousands of people at conferences throughout the country and have some of the greatest Catholic speakers come talk. We have 1.8 million Facebook followers, and hundreds of thousands YouTube followers.”
Sanford said the group is currently working out of four different locations, and the new center will enable them to consolidate operations under one roof. They’ll also be able to host conferences, meetings and special events.
“We’re really proud and excited about it, and happy about the progress we’ve made,” he said, pointing out they’d raised about $10.2 million in gifts and pledges from givers around the country in just about 18 months. “Fundraising has gone well.”
— Dressel said an economic impact study OMEGA helped them do, in concert with Ohio University, suggests hosting even three events a month at the Grand could generate as much as $7 million annually from consumer spending for tickets, lodging, food, beverages, merchandise and transportation. The same study estimated the total economic impact of the restoration and operation of the Grand at $10.7 million a year.
The theater seats 800, with a 700-seat ballroom/convention center area at the front of the building. The renovation is in its 12th year and is “about one-fifth done,” he said. “There’s about $4.5 million to $6 million in work left to do.”
“(But) once we are done and have it up and running, the economic impact that (derives) from even three events a months … could exceed the total cost of renovations,” Dressel said. “It really does pay for itself fast … and that’s just three events a month.”
It also will impact sales tax and bed tax receipts, he pointed out.
“The university has a list of about 30 different kinds of events we could have there, we could have a use agreement with them (for them) when other facilities are full,” he said.
Dressel said the theater has capital grant funds from the state, but they can use only a “very small portion” of the money for architectural fees, “so we’re sort of hoping the city would see fit to help us pay … those.”
“If we were fully funded we would be open,” he said, “so we’re working on funding all the time. That’s why we need help with grant writing.”
— Bratten said Fort Steuben and the Visitor Center attract thousands of visitors to the community every year.
“When it was founded, the idea was to rebuild the fort as an education place and also for tourism,” she said. “Since then tourism has been identified (in Ohio) as part of economic development.”
She said tourism in Jefferson County generated more than $204 million in sales in 2019-20 and $27 million in taxes. The industry is responsible for 2,170 jobs paying more than $49 million in wages.
Businesses don’t just look at sites when they’re making expansion decisions. “They’re looking for qualify of life … is it a good place to live, a good place to start a business, to go to college, purchase a vacation home, raise family?” she said.
“Those are things advertising and tourism can bring to economic development,” she said.
She said the fort is currently upgrading its walkways to make it easier for individuals in wheelchairs or with strollers to navigate the historic site, while at the now 20-year-old Visitor Center, she said they desperately need public restrooms as well as new windows and carpeting.
“We operate on memberships and donations,” she said. “The hotel tax money … that money mostly goes to advertising events, paying utilities and things like that. Work on our buildings and educational programs comes from memberships and donations.”
Eventually, Bratten said they’d love to have “an additional building or extension to our building that would have public restrooms, which are so necessary, and a learning center/event meeting room. So many groups want to come have meetings — even when our students come they have to do their crafts in the conference room now. The Art Association meets every month in conference room. We’d love to have a space where people could really gather, where students and other groups could have lectures and programs.”
— Jeter told council the mall’s new owner “took over the first week of June and has crews working on the roof and roadways … getting more tenants in.”
“We’re working on filling vacancies,” he said. “We have 15 moving in. Two (others) are interested.”
He said the mall tenants “actually formed a committee, a community events committee, they’re supposed to have something every First Saturday.”
The mall is now open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., he said.
— Sedgmer told council the chamber represents “a little over 500 businesses.” About three-quarters of its members are Steubenville businesses.
She said the chamber is pulling out all the stops to ensure businesses that are already in the community “continue to be successful,” by encouraging young people to come back to Jefferson County to live and work after they graduate high school and college.
The chamber also launched its “Ohio Valley Shop Where I live” online platform, allowing members to sell their products online.
Sedgmer said the days of the chamber being best known for its cocktail hour are long past.
“It’s not just that anymore and hasn’t been for a long time,” she said.
McManamon, meanwhile, told council the firm that he and 3rd Ward Councilman Eric Timmons consulted about the Belleview Park field lights is proposing a $30,000 study, “which is significantly lower than what had been proposed before.”