Warren needs some lofty ideas

Several years ago, Hiram College considered partnering with Akron University to develop the old Martin Chevrolet property on the peninsula near downtown Warren. The development was to center around condominiums but Hiram’s board of trustees pulled the plug fearing environmental issues and Mahoning River flooding.

Hiram President Thomas Chema, who supported the project, is still at the college while most of the trustees are new. Hiram’s participation in private sector business ventures, such as its Center for Integrated Entrepreneurship, one of the college’s academic centers of distinction, is even stronger than it was when peninsula development was considered.

Environmental and flooding issues may still exist on the peninsula, but a partnership between the city and Hiram might once again be advantageous to repopulate Warren. Perhaps the target should be the Garden District, a neighborhood northeast of downtown that Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership is targeting for strategic demolition and wildflower infill through the Gregg’s Gardens program.

And with or without Hiram, the city, the Trumbull County land bank and others could benefit from a new trend – loft homes.

Planting flowers where homes have been demolished is better than uncontrolled weeds and costly government upkeep, but true revival would require saving more homes from the demo list and repopulating the neighborhood.

A typical home rehab costs about $30,000. However, converting to a loft house costs only about $10,000. That’s one reason the Cuyahoga County land bank partnered with a local nonprofit group there on a pilot program in Cleveland’s St. Clair-Superior neighborhood. The program calls for the land bank and the St. Clair-Superior nonprofit to provide low-interest loans to developers who convert the salvageable century homes to loft houses.

They’re finding that many homes built in the late 1800s and early 1900s used balloon framing studs in the load-bearing walls run uninterrupted from the foundation to the eave line. This makes it easy to tear out floors and walls to create trendy large rooms and high ceilings. This allows developers to also preserve the historical materials used in construction during that era.

Trumbull’s land bank, Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership, the local business community, a philanthropic nonprofit and perhaps Hiram College should explore a collaboration for a Garden District program. The Garden District connects to Packard Music Hall, which is about to undergo a revitalization of its own under the direction of Sunrise Entertainment. The Garden District also connects to downtown, which stands to receive a boost by having a restored neighborhood within walking distance. The Garden District also connects to Warren G. Harding High School, one of the city’s all-new school buildings, which is another draw for repopulation. And the city’s police department has partnered with outside agencies in a decisive effort to reduce violent crime and cripple the drug trade, thus ridding the community of many elements that hamper repopulation.

The timing and the need is now for Warren to rebuild. Without a rebuilding strategy, hundreds of salvageable homes will be added to the demo list by the time the current round of demos is completed.