Group looks at vacant properties

A New York state-based entity has expressed interest in taking existing vacant facilities in the City of Warren, as well as unused structures, and rehabbing them for residential use.

City Planner David Hildebrand presented the concept to the City Planning Commission on Tuesday morning.

While he was unable to give the name of the organization “because it is in the early stages,” Hildebrand said. “They look at it from the standpoint of preservation of buildings.” He said they have had a lot of success in central and western New York and are seeking to expand.

“The emphasis, I believe, that they look at (is) they like to look at things close to the downtown,” said Hildebrand, who will continue to communicate with them. “I think it’s an opportunity to bring some new life in the community with a group totally from the outside. (It could be) a shot in the arm.”

The entity came to Warren to visit and city staff led them on a tour of the downtown, pointing out vacant properties and underutilized structures.

“At this point, when they came to visit the community, they were real positive about Warren,” he said.

Commission member Charles Conaway asked whether the group showed interest in downtown upper floors, the focal point of the failed black window project from several yeas ago.

“(That is) not really their focus,” Hildebrand explained, but “could be a possibility. They said when they came through (they) wanted to look through the community as a whole. We showed the Home Street and Jefferson Street schools. They actually have gone into communities and used vacant lots as well as old school type of places.”

The group would manage the properties that they restore.

Commission member Gregory Fraser asked if they work as a public-private partnership. “I don’t believe so,” said Hildebrand.

“I think there has to be an economic appetite for the space,” Fraser said. “A PPP, we’ve gone that road and there is nothing wrong with the model if there is a need that you are filling.”

“I would put a little bit of caution out there,” Commission member Bob Dilks said, “to the city as a whole that we need to be careful not to go after something new that might seek grant monies or other government support, if you will, and ignore things that were already attempted that have not been completed. I bring Home Street to the table. One more nudge to get it to go would be great.”

“We also need to keep in mind that private dollars work,” he added.

“This is my dream job,” Chair Don Nelson said. “This is what I was trying to do. The Black Window project was a great idea. What is happening right now, buildings are being acquired for pennies on the dollar. There is money to be made. There is an opportunity here.

“This is a condition that exists in northwest Pennsylvania and southwest New York,” he said of the empty buildings that are “incredible spaces. But these buildings have fallen on disrepair. People didn’t have the funding to support them. It is a great, great business opportunity.”