Government use of vacated buildings good


Usually I agree with the Tribune Chronicle’s insights, but not with the editorial “Warren hurt by government property grab” published Feb. 21, 2014.

The main reasons why government (county, city, schools) acquired these downtown properties are because they needed large facilities with good public access and less maintenance expense problems. These existing commercial structures serve those needs at less cost than new construction.

Our local governments have found themselves as the buyers of last resort, when private-sector businesses are not interested in buying large downtown buildings.

Businesses locate where they can expect a better return on investment, with access to customers, vendor supply chains, transportation, utilities, and / or lower cost of operations. When companies fail or restructure, or when facilities become obsolete for business needs, these companies will abandon properties and / or move away to more advantageous locations.

That is why our cities have lost so much tax base, with businesses leaving so many vacant commercial and industrial brownfield properties. That is also why the nine-story Chase office building sold at auction for $75,000.

It is better to have these downtown buildings government-owned, occupied and maintained rather than becoming even more abandoned blight.

Downtown Warren was already becoming a ghost town with vacant buildings until Main Street Warren, the Regional Chamber, the Wean Foundation, and a handful of entrepreneurs took the expensive gamble to renovate old downtown buildings.

The purpose of downtowns changed dramatically during the late 20th century. Notice how you do not see many major corporate businesses downtown. People stopped coming downtown to shop in department stores when suburban plazas and malls offered more conveniences and free parking. Without this daily influx of department store shoppers, downtown restaurants and specialty shops lost much of their walk-in customer base.

The major purpose left to draw people downtown is to conduct business at government offices. Government traffic provides the customer base needed for restaurants, specialty stores and newer entertainment offerings in historic downtown Warren. If our local officials chose to locate government offices out in the suburbs, that would be an unforgivable abandonment of a struggling downtown that is now revitalizing.

This Tribune editorial even suggests moving Trumbull County government into properties owned by the Land Bank. Are they aware that the Land Bank properties are mostly abandoned, foreclosed homes in residential neighborhoods scattered throughout the city and county? Most Land Bank properties will require major renovation or demolition.

The loss of our communities’ businesses and tax base is definitely a serious problem that has grown to disastrous proportions over the past four decades. The key is to provide job-ready locations with the features and infrastructure required for 21st century businesses.

First we need to address the abandonment, vacancy, and blight that spread like cancer, discouraging business investment in our legacy communities. Government acquisition and use of vacated buildings prevents some abandonment, which is a step in the right direction.

James J. Pirko