WARREN - The agency created to spur downtown development says its scope has broadened over the last 30 years to include projects throughout the community.
"We have properties on Parkman Road, North Leavitt Road and East Market Street, so it is a misnomer to say we are only doing redevelopment work in downtown," Anthony Iannucci, director of Warren Redevelopment and Planning Corp., told members of City Council's Health and Welfare Committee on Monday.
"But because much of our work deals with commercial redevelopment, and much of that has been in the downtown area, we have focused on the downtown area."
A former city auditor, Iannucci said there have been more economic development projects happening in downtown Warren in the last two years than in the prior 10 years combined.
W.R.A.P. also is on the city's design review committee, which reviews and approves design for building projects. Iannucci, in association with W.R.A.P., also operates the Warren Business Exchange and the city's revolving loan fund, from where small business can obtain loans to develop their businesses.
He said, there have been 14 developments in which W.R.A.P. had some involvement, including the WEAN Foundation's new headquarters, the Paul Clouser building, the Tech Belt Energy Innovation Center, the Boyle building, McDonald's, Taco Bell, YWCA apartments, Comfort Inn renovation, Warner House, the Hippodrome, Chase tower , YMCA windows and the new awnings on Howard's clothing.
W.R.A.P. is involved with the development of what is called ''the peninsula'' - the former location of Martin Chevrolet - and says it has been contacted by a private business to develop a portion of it for housing.
Iannucci said W.R.A.P. has been involved in attracting new businesses into downtown, including the Courthouse Grill, Court Yard Cafe, Trendi Fashions, Green Thumb, Greenwood Photography, Five Grand Boutique, Duncan Land Services, Nicholson Center, Sunset Lounge, Life Fleet Ambulance and Dub City Beauty.
When questioned by Councilman Eddie Colbert about the number of new businesses that moved into the city, Iannucci said all but one came from outside the area.
"We play a very much supportive role," Iannucci said. "We do not have the budget to be pro-active in attracting new businesses.''
However, he added, the agency works with the city in providing required information to businesses looking to move into the community.
Mayor Doug Franklin emphasized that while it is not W.R.A.P.'s mission to proactively market the area, the city is marketing itself . Working with the Regional Chamber and the Port Authority, the city currently has emissaries marketing the city to shale-related businesses in Texas.
Iannucci said downtown business owners can apply for loans and / or grants to redo their property fronts. The owners of the Hippodrome and the Clouser buildings have received the loans. The new owners of the hotel are applying for the loan.
Iannucci told council members the best thing they can do is to make the city the best it can be.
"The rest will take care of itself," he said. "Businesses look at city demographics, articles in local newspapers, and what others are saying about it."
Iannucci said there are 25 to 30 businesses with active loans in the city's revolving loan fund, adding four to five new businesses a year.
Questioned about defaults, Iannucci said the agency attempts to work with the businesses to make sure they work.
"We do not want to force them into foreclosure and out of business," Iannucci said.
However, if the business closes and defaults, the city will do what it can to recover its investment, including selling equipment and suing its principals.