Mayor offers update on panel’s plan

WARREN – Battling criticism of lack of progress, Mayor Doug Franklin on Tuesday outlined for the Warren City Council’s Resident Advisory Committee what has been done on a 10-point plan introduced in 2012.

Roy Yancey, chairman of the RAC, and four other members sent a letter Jan. 17 to Franklin threatening to resign from the volunteer group for lack of implementation of plan parts.

Yancey and the other four members – Vice President Mark Malko, Secretary Jill Merola, Janet Hazlette and Lou Lepro – gave the city 30 days to make corrective actions.

The projects were for the city to initiate a professional marketing program; improve the Packard Apartments; form an education and medical district; rehabilitate the Robins Theater; save the Saker Mansion; expand the bike trail; find a condo developer for the Riverside peninsula; establish a farmers market; develop downtown apartments; and develop the former Mahoningside power plant property.

These recommendation were taken from the Poggemeyer study, which the city paid $182,000 to have done.

RAC members stated that getting information about the city’s efforts on the projects has been problematic from the start because assigned leaders were not turning in written reports. Some verbal reports were provided in May.

“Perhaps the most important recommendation, the funding of a small marketing budget to support the other projects, was never discussed nor attempted,” the letter states. “We believe the absence of this support guaranteed limited success for the majority of the projects.”

Franklin on Monday told council’s Strategic Planning Committee members and RAC leaders that two of the projects – downtown apartments and riverside condominiums – are, at this time, off the table. There also has been very limited progress on the proposed education and medical district, Franklin said.

By Tuesday, the mayor agreed that marketing downtown apartments should remain on the list.

“Dr. Laura Meeks (president of the Eastern Gateway Community College) has been very apologetic about not having something done at this time, but she is working with the CEOs of the two hospitals in the city in developing a plan,” he said.

Meeks has been working on the development of a school site in Warren and on other projects that have taken time.

While the city has not hired a professional marketing firm, Franklin said it has been doing several in-house projects, including developing brochures that are being sent to other communities and passed out at any programs city officials attend. It also established a section on the city’s website promoting the city. The city also is looking at better utilizing social media to promote its assets, he said.

It has not dedicated any money toward marketing because the city is in the midst of contract negotiations with its unions and has limited funds.

“The owner of the Packard Apartments (Steve Coon) has purchased the property next to his to protect his investment,” Franklin said. “He intends to continue doing repairs and paint the property in the next few months.”

Warren Redevelopment and Planning Corp. Director Anthony Iannucci said work is being done on a request for proposals for the 24 properties that makes up what is known as the Riverfront Peninsula property, which will be marketed for housing and mixed-use developments.

“There has been some piece-meal interest in the property, but the city does not want the property to be sold in that way,” Iannucci said.

Melissa Holmes, a city resident, told council members and members of RAC that a group of graduate students from the New School in New York will be coming to Warren in February to work with community activists and leaders in developing an interactive project for the former Robins Theatre.

The effort will be to repurpose Robins to other uses, based on community needs and desires, she said.

Franklin said the city has available about $400,000 in grants from the bike trail that may be used for the enhancement and development of the Mahoningside property.

“We’ve had several ideas suggested, including placing a dog park, on the property,” Franklin said. “We placed that on hold because there was some commercial interest interest in the property.”

Franklin in the Tuesday meeting agreed to provide the RAC leadership quarterly reports beginning in April on the progress of the 10-point plan, as well as having twice a year face-to-face meetings with the group.