City RDA returns to roots with east side project

The City of Warren Redevelopment Authority is more than a group that arranges for demolition of blighted properties.

A loan program that is available to help downtown business owners make improvements to their properties started in 2004. “That was a portion, probably a big thrust, of what the Redevelopment Authority was” at that time, authority member Tricia Durbin said.

The loan fund has only been tapped three times, though. Insert Molding Technologies took out the first loan and is still paying it back.

The only other loans were taken out in 2010 and 2011 by GRO-Warren an entity that has since dissolved.

Without activity in the loan program, the RDA has spent much of its efforts dealing with blight.

On Thursday, the RDA members discussed a Wednesday proposal by the city Planning Commission to set aside some of the dollars in the loan program for use as grants for improvements on the city’s east side.

The proposal would take $100,000 of about $275,000 in the loan fund and make it available for matching grants for east side projects. The maximum grant amount is proposed at $7,500 with a 100 percent match required by the owner.

“I think the east side project is a step in the right direction,” member Randy Rossey said. “I’m pleased to see us moving in this direction.”

The authority did not take formal action on the Planning Commission proposal.

Rossey and fellow RDA member David Cantrell said they plan to attend the July meeting of the Planning Commission and report back to the RDA the following day.

If the groups come to an agreement, they will forward a proposal to the meeting of city council the following week.

Authority member Chuck Hayes asked if there were more plans in the pipeline. “The businesses on the west side might look at this and say, ‘Why not us?'”

He suggested the organizations consider taking that action in the future.

Alan Gustafson, city code official, informed the authority members that he had spoken with neighbors of the 702 W. Fifth Ave. property owned by the authority.

He said one neighbor has expressed an interest in the property. “It’s a natural extension of his yard.”

Because the property is narrow – about 25 feet wide – it is not suitable as a building lot. The city has been mowing the grass and shoveling snow there for six years, Gustafson said, and officials would prefer to see the lot in private hands.

The members passed a motion to have Gustafson return to the neighbors asking for formal offers for the land.