Council mulls Pa. Ave. property

If you’re interested in owning some prime downtown real estate, the City of Warren might have some coming up for sale.

While Warren City Council entertained with great interest the possibility of selling 231, 233 and 237 Pennsylvania Ave. West, action was not taken to put the properties up for sale during its meeting Monday evening.

But council scheduled a special meeting for 5:30 p.m. April 28, and the properties are likely to be discussed again then.

City Manager Nancy Freenock said the properties had been owned by the city’s Redevelopment Authority and deeded to the city as part of Impact Warren, developer Robert Yoder’s project at Breeze Point.

Eventually, the properties reverted to the city and the “city never gave them back to the RDA,” said Freenock.

She said the Redevelopment Authority is considering taking the properties back.

“I know that it is anxious to get the properties back on the tax rolls,” she added.

Councilman Sam Harvey asked if it would be permissible to bid all of the parcels as one.

Freenock said the properties would be bid together and individually.

Harvey suggested that the city just put the properties out for bid without sending them to the RDA.

“We should maximize our profit from it where it might take years for anything to develop or (nothing) might develop,” he said. “If a parking lot is the best thing in there, that’s fine.”

Freenock told the RDA at its last meeting that someone expressed interest in the parcels to serve as a parking lot.

Harvey claimed, “Fifty years from now it won’t be a parking lot. In the long term, whatever the market will bear.”

Councilman Dr. Howard Ferguson asked how deep the parcels are. Councilman John Lewis said they go back to the service road for the parking garage, approximately 70 feet.

According to city officials, the buildings are unlikely to meet code as they currently stand.

Freenock said the city has obtained estimates on demolition cost.

City Administrator Mary Ann Nau said the city has also received some criticism about the properties, namely the sidewalks not getting swept and weeds growing in cracks. “That’s from the downtown merchants,” she said.

“What we are seeing is that people are moving downtown,” said Freenock. “If there is a possibility for something to be built there” it should be pursued.

Mayor Maurice Cashman asked if the RDA would have access to grants for such development that the city would not.

“They could help a developer find them and look with staff,” said City Planner David Hildebrand.

“They have some powers the city does not have,” added Freenock.

Citing the failed Home Street residential development, Lewis said he would rather see development occur in private hands, while on the tax rolls, as opposed to a public or public/private arrangement.

With the city’s attempted participation in the Blueprint Communities Program, Cashman suggested that the city might want to “hold that property for a year or two and see if something develops so we’re not cutting ourselves off of possibilities.”

Harvey asked about the cost of putting the properties out for bid.

Freenock said that would include the cost of advertising and updating the survey, if needed. Department of Public Works Director Mike Holtz said the appraisal on the parcels would need to be revisited as well.

Freenock asked if council wanted to put any conditions on the sale, such as the parcels cannot be used as a parking lot.

“I don’t see that as being necessary,” said Harvey.

“Isn’t that what went wrong at Home Street?” Ferguson asked, citing a lack of timelines on the development there. He indicated it “might be wise to put some conditions” on the potential sale.

“The RDA can do something like that. (There is) no reason we can’t,” said Councilman Gregory Fraser.

“My concern… if someone bought it at a small price and they (the buildings) could still sit there for years and we have given up all controls. We give all that up,” said Ferguson. “I’m concerned about that.”

“That’s a valid concern,” said Harvey. Let’s “get it out there and see what people will pay for it as is.”

He proposed the city could then re-bid it with restrictions if the bids without were not acceptable.