East Side may have shot at facade loans

A loan program that was previously reserved for businesses in downtown Warren may soon be expanded to include the city’s east side.

The Warren City Redevelopment Authority (RDA) has two loan funds – one with about $198,000 and the other with about $62,000 – that have not seen significant use in years. The authority and the city’s planning commission are working together to see if those dollars can benefit businesses along Pennsylvania Avenue East between the Glade Bridge and the Conewango Creek.

“We’re looking to establish a facade loan fund to help the businesses out there… since they were never really brought into any (previous) programs,” City Planner David Hildebrand said.

The proposal would allow loan funding to be used for facade and sidewalk improvements.

The loan programs were created to benefit the Impact Warren area – between Hickory and Market streets from the Allegheny River to Pennsylvania Avenue – Hildebrand said. The covered area was later expanded to include the downtown business district.

The changes, and the dollars, will probably not be ready for a few months.

“It’s reasonable to think we might have some action late spring, early summer,” authority member Randy Rossey said.

Home Street development

Authority member Chuck Hayes asked for an update on the Home Street development.

City Manager Nancy Freenock said the agreement between the city and developer Ruzhdi Bakalli does not require any particular development by any particular date. “It’s unfortunate the agreement didn’t hold any time frame or any way to hold his feet to the fire,” she said.

“What’s he proposing at this point?” Hayes asked.

Freenock shook her head.

“Nothing?” Hayes asked. “Certainly not what we envisioned.”

The authority can force the owner to maintain the property – remove snow and cut grass – but not develop nor sell it, Freenock said.

She said she would invite Bakalli to the authority’s next meeting.

The authority members said they would remember this situation, but wanted to ensure that future board members received some guidance. Rossey suggested the authority draw up “standard verbage” including time limits for future contracts.

Resignation and new member

Long-time member Robert Kaemmerer had previously tendered his resignation, pending finding a replacement. That resignation was accepted at Thursday’s meeting as David Cantrell was appointed to the board.

Hayes expressed the board’s thanks for Kaemmerer’s “years of service.”

“He was a real asset to the authority,” Hayes said.