City RDA updated on projects, initiatives

City of Warren staff was on-hand to present the Redevelopment Authority with information on possible upcoming projects and initiatives at its meeting last Thursday morning.

City Planner David Hildebrandt reported conversations with a prospective development group is prompting staff to speak with the authority and the city’s planning commission on a possible joint effort.

“The city recently got a request from a group out of New York state,” Hildebrandt said.

The group, a non-profit which Hildebrandt declined to name due to ongoing discussions, would like the city to look at the possibility of renovating and repurposing buildings or using vacant lots to provide housing.

The group would be utilizing funding from the Pennsylvania Housing Funding Agency and looking at vacant and partially vacant buildings and lots, including vacant structures not originally used for housing, such as former school buildings and office spaces.

“They’re residential at this point, but they’re moving toward more mixed-use projects,” Hildebrandt said.

After renovations, the group stays on to manage the properties and work with owners and renters on their responsibilities.

“I thought that might be a nice breath of fresh air,” Hildebrandt said, “to kind of get an outside perspective.”

“Their program sounds like something the city could benefit from,” City Administrator Mary Ann Nau said.

Authority Chairman Chuck Hayes expressed a possible concern, saying, “I think the main thing we’d be interested in would be their track record.”

The group, according to Hildebrandt, has worked in the Buffalo-Syracuse-Rochester area of New York state, but there is some concern over a now-defunct project it may have been involved with in Bradford.

Hildebrandt said they are currently reviewing information he has sent them.

Hildebrandt also presented information on an initiative for improvements along the eastern “gateway corridor” of the city from approximately Elm Street to the Glade Bridge on Pennsylvania Avenue that the city would like to see.

City staff would like to see a joint effort between the authority and the city’s blighted, planning and streets and landscape committees to improve the area.

Hayes recalled discussion of improvements in that part of town are not new, saying he believed he remembered discussions a decade ago that never materialized into projects.

“What’s changed? Are there new funds out there?” he asked.

Hildebrandt responded that different funds are available and that different people are involved at the city.

Nau noted that until recently, downtown improvement projects have taken up much of the city’s attention.

“I think the focus then was the downtown,” she said. “We’re ready, again, to take a look at that east corridor. You’re trying to attract people… and that’s their vision. They might see that and just keep on driving Pennsylvania Avenue straight through and out of town.”

Possible projects would include landscape work and tree planting, building rehabilitation and development projects, although no specific plans have yet been formulated.

Hayes said that, if the initiative moved forward, he would like to see the East Side Business Association included in discussions.