Thursday, December 28, 2006

4 questions for the kidd

He's a successful entrepreneur, a talk radio megastar, and a hardcore pittsburgh steelers fan. (2 outta 3 redeeming qualities ain't bad). Now Phil Kidd, creator of the "Defend Youngstown" movement, has agreed to answer a few questions about the city he is passionate about.

This little "question and answer feature" may become a semi-regular feature on this blog, depending on the response. Please leave a comment what you think of his answers, or who else you would like to see interviewed.

SY: A recent Business Journal article mentions that your heart belongs to Youngstown. Was there a singular event to make you begin to feel this way, or was there a gradual transition that you can further elaborate about?

PK: When I first came to Youngstown as an undergraduate at Youngstown State nearly 10 years ago, I was instantly attracted to the presence of campus and to the upper north side. As time passed, I began to experience and appreciate the Valley as a whole - its depth and layout, its history, and its tremendous sense of community. When I left for the military, I never lost touch with the people I knew from Youngstown or the progress the city was making. Youngstown had left an impression on me like few other places have or could.

I became extremely intrigued by the Youngstown 2010 project and upon leaving the service, I had to make a decision as to where I was going to continue my life. Seeing that the city seemed to be formulating a legitimate plan for its future, I made the decision to return. The decision turned out to be a life changer.

I attended almost every Youngstown 2010 meeting until the plan was officially finalized in 2005. During this time, I met a number of great "Youngstown-Americans", however, one in particular really impressed me. His name was Jay Williams. Some of your readers may recognize the name. When Jay decided to run for Mayor of Youngstown, I realized the imperativeness of the election. We fought incredibly hard to get him elected and, to the great benefit of the city, Jay was overwhelmingly elected Mayor late last year. This solidified my commitment to Youngstown.

I suppose my love to the city has much to do with being a native of Pittsburgh. I view Youngstown as smaller version of the Steel City in the sense that it matches the same values and "realness" attributes that shaped me as an individual. Youngstown is a take-it-or-leave-it kind of town with down-to-earth people who understand the full spectrum of life because they are exposed to some of the best and the worst aspects of life almost daily. In my opinion, that is the real beauty of it all. Despite its problems, the good people it attracts or selects are people who choose to fight the good fight in life. To top it off, Youngstown is also a city that is open to all kinds of possibilities with amenities that many other cities can only dream of. These amenities could only have been provided by being a successful city twice our size a half century ago.

By good fortune, we have preserved these assets well and are rebuilding a new Youngstown around them. It’s a beautiful situation and we are certainly on our way, however, the city has many battles ahead and we need people committed to the fight. I’m a fighter and a believer.

That is why I love Youngstown.

SY: Where do you see downtown Youngstown in ten years?

PK: First off, let me say that I think 10 years is pretty realistic time period to begin to evaluate our progress. I think a lot of people say, “Well, I hear about positive things going on in the city but I don’t really see much change.” It’s a difficult comment to address because much of the “important” things that are happening in the city are more groundwork, city planning-oriented stuff. What we are talking about is building an infrastructure or a model, if you will, in which future administrations can continue to build upon. Obviously, in Youngstown, that requires a great deal of effort because we’ve conducted business pretty poorly for the last 3 decades. So, that, in and of itself, is enough work for any Mayor.

However, when you have severe, pressing social and economic issues that must also be addressed at the same time, you have a complicated situation. But to that end – and this is as big an aspect as any– is our change in mentality or approach in our elected leadership within the city (Jay Williams) and beyond (Tim Ryan). In many respects, this is uncharted territory for Youngstown. We are building as we go. It’s like laying railroad track with the train on the track, moving forward, waiting for the next piece to be laid.

A plan like Youngstown 2010 (which is really in an infancy stage) is a bold new approach to city planning. It’s a very comprehensive and very goal-oriented plan (and now gaining national attention/respect) yet one that is not going to have immediate results. We are essentially shrinking Youngstown, restructuring large parts of it and building on existing strengths. The idea is that Youngstown will become a leaner, greener city, capable of more control over the complex urban issues it faces. Again, this means very good things in time but nothing you’ll see overnight because the changes are gradual but permanent. These changes, in turn, hope to spur the interest of business and industry (among others) across the nation who may consider conducting business in Youngstown if they view the city as seriously committed to reestablishing its community and economy through action.

The target right now, however, is the downtown, and in 5 years you’re going to see some dramatic changes that will make it a true destination in the Valley. In the past 3 years, we have seen the reopening of Federal St, establishment of the Chevy Centre, and an influx of new businesses and restaurants. Within the next 3yrs, we’ll see the opening of 3 major residential towers (Realty, Wick, and Erie Terminal) which will mean you’ll have a mix of professionals and students living in the downtown. In addition, we will see a $250 million community built in Smoky Hollow. That essentially solidifies the downtown as a viable, residential area which is an incredibly important destination.

This will be followed by more retail to accommodate these residents as well as the growing number of people who visit entertainment venues downtown. YSU’s commitment to the Youngstown 2010 plan will also be well underway with the establishment of the business college and the extension of Hazel St (which will serves as the “Federal St to the North”). Establishing true “connectivity” between YSU and the downtown provides limitless options for both parties.

These are major developments which will serve as the foundation of the revitalization effort within the city. Success of these projects will dictate further development of which I’m sure will include a heavy neighborhood focus and the “greening” of much more of the city. The next 10 years in Youngstown will be something this nation will take note of.

Q: If I gave you a check for $10,000 to be spent on the city of Youngstown, what would you spend it on and why?

PK: With $10,000, I’d sink every penny into surface lighting for our current structures downtown. Our downtown architecture is one of our greatest assets yet a number of beautiful buildings remain dark and seemingly hidden. It’s not a quick fix problem and, as I understand it, is one in which our downtown revitalization committee is attempting to remedy (finding funding to lay electric wiring underground to support the utility). However, I would contribute my $10,000 toward that effort.

Q: If you had one last meal left on this earth, and it had to be in Youngstown, what would it be?

Wow. You save the toughest question for last. I could probably think of 30 or 40 places worthy of a last meal in the city, however, my last meal would be a breakfast at the Golden Dawn. I’ve spent most of my time in Youngstown in or around the North Side, particularly the neighborhoods close to the Dawn.

I started there and I’d end it there.

I’d order my usual double order of 2 eggs, ham, and toast with a cup of coffee, write a note stating to “fight the good fight”, hand it to youngest kid in the room and walk out the door into oblivion.


Phil Kidd said...

Wow, Defend Youngstown getting some international exposure. Thanks for the opportunity, Janko. Great questions. The best Ytown site keeps getting better.

Anonymous said...

It's good to see so much enthusiasm. This was a very informative interview, I look forward to seeing some of these changes downtown.

Anonymous said...

I've only been there twice, but I almost moved to Y-town over that last answer. Great interview.