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Scheme proposed downtown riot exercises in 2001

Although the riot-exercises proposal was published on the front page of the March 21, 2001 edition of The Vindicator,  the board of the Youngstown Central Area Community Improvement Corp. did not go through with the plan. The following editorial originally appeared in the April 2001 edition of The Metro Monthly.

By Mark C. Peyko

Body piercings, Eminem and Marilyn Manson do not bother me. As a copy editor at a daily newspaper, I had learned to quickly and efficiently process thousands of wire stories dealing with all sorts of human tragedy. But just when I think there are no new ways to be offended, it happens. And it happened in late March [2001] in The Vindicator.

In a front-page article, City Hall reporter Roger G. Smith wrote about a proposal to use downtown commercial properties for simulated riot exercises. According to the article, the board members of the Youngstown Central Area Community Improvement Corp. were seriously considering the proposal.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the article, a front-page headline in the March 21 issue of The Vindicator crowed: “What a riot! Unusual use for old buildings.” In the article, Smith described how Kyle A. Nurminen, a lieutenant with the Ohio State Penitentiary, had approached the CIC seeking permission to conduct riot training exercises in some of the properties the agency controls in the central business district.

Smith’s article – gleeful in tone – went on to describe the recent meeting where CIC board members joked about how the supermax prison Special Response Team’s exercises “could reduce eventual demolition costs for a few too-far-gone buildings.” One founding CIC board member – presumably to the delight of the room – even said, “We finally found somebody who can use our buildings.”

Maybe I’m a little thick, but I fail to see the humor in a proposal that deeply insults the individuals and families that built Youngstown through their wealth and labor. And what about Youngstowners my parents’ age – the generation that worked, shopped, and spent their leisure hours in downtown Youngstown? Were they amused? Did they see the entertainment value in a proposal that allows downtown Youngstown to be physically and psychologically desecrated and devalued?

In the CIC’s 1999 annual report, the nonprofit organization’s mission is explained as “advancing, encouraging and promoting the industrial, economic, commercial, retail and civic development of the central area of the municipal corporation of Youngstown in Mahoning County, Ohio.”

I would like for the CIC board to explain to the community how kicking down doors and shooting paint pellets in CIC properties would succeed in “advancing, encouraging and promoting the industrial, economic, commercial, retail and civic development” of the downtown area.

Not only does accepting the supermax proposal appear to be in violation of the downtown agency’s expressed mission statement, but allowing such a disgraceful and insulting activity to occur also sends a powerfully negative message to prospective developers and businesses who may have been considering relocating to downtown Youngstown.

Additionally, accepting the supermax proposal would undermine the revitalization efforts of organizations like Downtown Partners, the Downtown Revitalization Committee, the Regional Chamber, and others. And what about the merchants, property owners, and shopkeepers who have chosen to remain in the Central Business District? How does turning downtown Youngstown into a Midwest version of the post-apocalyptic action film “Escape from New York” improve their bottom line?

If you really start to think about the supermax proposal, other troubling questions arise. The Ohio State Penitentiary lieutenant may have thought it was a good idea to approach the downtown’s chief development agency. But why did he think it was appropriate to approach the CIC? And does the CIC board understand that many older Youngstowners might find their jokes about the condition of the downtown disrespectful and offensive?

In defense of the CIC, I’ll say that the board is rather large and I can only assume that there are individuals who may have been as uncomfortable with the supermax proposal as I was. But these same individuals must understand that the shameful opinions of a few – when not balanced by the contrasting views of more moderate board elements – leads the community to assume that those views are shared by the entire board.

This possible perception raises other concerns. The CIC is supposed to be an advocacy organization, but just whose interests are they representing? Certainly not the merchants. I find it incomprehensible that the CIC would even entertain a proposal that so seriously undermines the idea that downtown Youngstown is a place worthy of conducting business.

The revitalization of the Central Business District is difficult enough, but when CIC board members publicly express amusement over the destruction of the downtown, it sends a powerfully negative message.

© 2009, The Metro Monthly. All rights reserved.


One Comment on “Scheme proposed downtown riot exercises in 2001”

  1. Tyler says:

    Thanks for highlighting this. Boggles the mind.

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