Warren aims to spur growth

WARREN – City and business leaders are hoping the addition of up to 15 new liquor licenses in the downtown area will spur new growth in the central business district and beyond.

City council’s Engineering, Planning and Business Committee plans to discuss the boundaries of a new revitalization district in the 87-acre area during a meeting at 4 p.m. today in the City Council caucus room, 141 South St. S.E.

State D-5 liquor licenses may be provided to restaurants that make at least 75 percent of their sales on food and 25 percent or less on liquor sales.

“This is about bringing restaurants, not bars,” Councilman Jim Valesky, D-at large, said Monday. “The goal is to redevelop the downtown area.”

Paul Clouser, who owns Mahoning Valley Properties Specialist LLC, believes the revitalization would “help other building owners invest in their buildings and create a new atmosphere in downtown.

“We are hoping to see an uptick in new restaurants and business similar to what has occurred in Youngstown,” he said.

The Ohio House and Senate passed bills for the revitalization district earlier this year. The bills sponsoring the legislation were shepherded through by Rep. Thomas Letson, D-Warren, and Sen. Capri Cafaro, D-Hubbard. The legislation specifically is aimed at smaller communities with populations less than 50,000 residents.

“We wanted to have a public meeting to discuss the district, before council votes on whether to approve the boundaries,” Councilman Greg Bartholomew, D-4th Ward, said.

The idea of the legislation is to create a hub where there will be entertainment in and around the square that will attract both people looking for enjoyable activities and those considering living in the downtown area.

“We have several restaurants already located downtown – the Lime Tree, 187 W. Market St, and the Courthouse Grille, 176 North Park – that each expressed some interests in the legislation when the legislation passed on the state level,” Bartholomew said. “We are hoping this will be another element to spur downtown investments and more market rate houses.”

In today’s discussions, council members will discuss the possibilities of growth in the city if the revitalization district is passed and it will review the district’s proposed boundaries.

Earlier discussion about an entertainment district were held in Warren beginning in 2004 through 2006. That proposal was for a significantly larger area. The city applied to receive licenses under an entertainment district proposal available at that time.

“We were not able to go forward,” Warren Mayor Doug Franklin conceded. “We did not get the liquor licenses.”

The earlier effort did not succeed because the city did not fit criteria for entertainment districts, because the districts could not be created in towns with less than 100,000 population unless the county has a population less than 125,000.

At the time, their was a proposal to place the guidance of the proposed entertainment district under Warren Redevelopment and Planning. Anthony Iannucci, director of WRAP, has written the boundary proposal for the current Revitalization District.

Councilwoman Helen Rucker, D-at Large, said she likes the fact that the proposed revitalization district is smaller than entertainment district proposal originally presented to council several years ago.

“It was too large geographically,” Rucker said. “What I want to know how much area along Mahoning Avenue will be included, because it is an already established recreational area. I would like to see it go up to, perhaps, Summit Street, where one or two of the stately houses could be turned into a bed and breakfast or the former Pat Padula place can be reopened into some type of restaurant.”

Rucker suggests the everything in the district should be walking distance of one another, so customers can park their cars to go to a restaurant, then a program, and to a local bar or nightclub.

“That is what I’ve seen in cities like Cleveland, Milwaukee, Wis., and Washington D.C.,” Rucker said.

Councilman John Brown Jr. said he plans to question why more of Elm Road is not included in the latest boundaries of the revitalization district.