GE fences, vacant properties in contention

WARREN – A Warren-based online blog and a related letter-writing campaign has led an international lighting company to rethink the chain-link fence it erected around vacant lots – or at least part of it.

While some would say the sheer demolition of General Electric’s vacant buildings was a step in the right direction, others insist it’s not enough.

Several letters addressed to executives at GE Lighting’s offices in Cleveland about buildings the company owns in Trumbull County and vacant lots that remain where some of its buildings once stood appear on the blog “Warren Expressed” operated by Dennis Blank, president and co-founder. The not-for-profit group works to improve Warren’s image and future.

The prime focus of the letters is to request that the vacant lots be beautified and that what is described as prison yard-like chain link fences be removed.

Blank said he is pleased the company has demolished the buildings, but is concerned that the appearance of fenced yards leaves passers-by with a poor impression of the city.

“I am not trying to paint GE as an evil, terrible organization. I don’t think they are,” Blank said. “But I think the way they left it was kind of thoughtless.”

A letter dated Wednesday and addressed to GE President and CEO Maryrose Sylvester is among the most recent correspondence posted to the Warren Expressed blog. The letter, written by Roy Yancey, chairman of the Warren Residents Advisory Committee, addresses two particular Warren GE properties.

“The barren, bleak and intimidating former Ohio Lamp site on West Market is already a significant black eye for the city and a similar result on North Park would be a devastating blow to our central city revitalization efforts,” Yancey writes.

“General Electric is a leader in so many industries around the world. We ask that you use the same creativity and determination, that has make you so successful, to find a way to leave our city with an asset which will contribute to a new and positive future for Warren. Our community contributed to GE’s success for nearly a century; please don’t leave us with this anchor around our necks.”

The letter follows an earlier letter written by Warren Councilman at-large Dan Sferra, who described the fenced vacant property as much like a “prison yard, missing only a few dozen convicts wandering around in circles smoking, playing basketball and hoping not to catch a shiv in the back before they get return to their cells.”

Sferra stated, “Every time I drive past your former facility on West Market Street, I want to put an ice pick through my eye.”

The letters have not fallen on deaf ears.

GE responded by recently removing the three rows of barbed wire atop the fence on the West Market Street property.

“Over the past several months, GE has carefully deconstructed the building at our West Market Street property and prepared the lot for the next commercial or industrial user. Extensive research relative to this site showed that deconstructing the building and preparing it in this way will create a property that is attractive for other business uses, ensuring the site does not sit vacant and is put to good use,” Marian Whiteman, manager of GE’s brownfields program, said in an email to the Tribune Chronicle.

“While marketing the property, we fenced the lot and seeded it with grass to minimize littering and unintended use by others. In response to community requests, we have removed all barbed wire from the surrounding fencing, and the site stands in builder-ready condition and is currently for sale.

“We welcome offers and outreach from those interested in this property or others in the area,” she said.

Meanwhile, demolition will begin by autumn on GE’s last remaining local manufacturing plant, the former Ohio Lamp Plant at the corner of North Park Avenue and Dana Street.

That plant has been idle since January.

“I’d really like to have a dialogue with them,” Blank said. “Maybe some of the neighbors might have some thoughts.”

He added that following the Dana Street demolition, a similar fence or poor appearance of a vacant lot there would have a more damaging effect on the city.