A preservationist known for the restoration of historic buildings throughout the region describes the city's downtown as "like a Norman Rockwell painting."
Steve Coon, a co-owner of the Legacy Group, said he hopes to use his expertise to restore the historic Packard House Apartments, 318 N. Park Ave., while updating them to attract upscale people.
"We want people living downtown. We want them going to restaurants, going to art galleries and bringing life to the area after 6 p.m. We want to see people walking their dogs at 5 in the morning," Coon said.
A view of the Packard Building on North Park Avenue in Warren. A preservation group hopes to restore the building to its former glory, reducing the current 32 apartments to 16 upscale luxury suites.
Tribune Chronicle photos / R. Michael Semple
The Akron-based Legacy Group purchased the apartment building three years ago for $55,000 and immediately spent another $85,000 to replace its roof and board up the building.
"We were excited about getting the building," Coon said. "I look at downtowns in communities throughout the state, and Warren's downtown is one of the best in historic value. The Packard House Apartments is part of the downtown's historic fabric."
George Piscsalko, president of Main Street Warren, said the group plans to turn the current 32 apartments back into 16 luxury suites, as it was originally built to be for children of the Packard family.
Interest in restoring the grandeur of the building peaked last year when the city's Resident Advisory Committee presented the administration a list of 10 projects its members believed would help reinvigorate the city's growth. The restoration of the Packard House Apartments was one of the 10 items.
Other projects included developing a marketing plan for the city, the creation of an education and medical corridor on East Market Street, developing the riverfront peninsula, rehabbing the Robins Theater, expanding the bike trail and developing the former Mahoningside Power Plant property on Summit Street.
While Mayor Doug Franklin assigned different items on the list to community leaders and city departments, he kept the Packard House Apartments for himself.
Franklin, Piscsalko, Tammy Candella, co-owner of Candywood Golf Course and secretary of Main Street Warren, and Dave Ambrose, a city resident, met with Coon to talk about the project in February.
"You're not going to find a better ambassador for Warren than its mayor," Coon said recently. "He will do anything he can to promote the city.
Legacy Group owners are Bill Ginter, Dave Jursick, Joe Parsons, Don Taylor and Coon. Coon said they did not immediately begin the restoration because the overall national and local economy was still going through a slowdown.
The group does its work using historic preservation tax credits approved by the Ohio Department of Development. The Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credit Program provides a five-year, 25 percent tax credit for the rehabilitation expenses to owners and lessees of historically significant buildings.
A building is eligible if it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places; contributes to a National Register Historic District, National Park Service Certified Historic District or Certified Local Government historic district; or is listed as a local landmark by a Certified Local Government.
The tax credit program has approved 157 projects to rehabilitate 229 historic buildings in 34 communities. The program is projected to leverage more $2 billion in private redevelopment funding and federal tax credits directly through the rehabilitation projects.
"We will not be able to do the project without receiving the tax credits," Coon said.
To receive the tax credits, the owner must do all of the work and then apply for reimbursement. The credits cannot be used for the purchase cost of the building. The Legacy Group will apply for the tax credits in September and should know by December if they are approved. It is expected to take nine months to complete the restoration of the building.
"We've done hundreds of these projects across Ohio and own 27 buildings personally that I've restored," he said.
"We will put in modern wiring, plumbing, sprinklers, heating and ventilation systems, upscale kitchens and baths with granite countertops and other amenities that people looking for market-rate apartments are looking for," Coon said.
"Historic projects of this kind benefit the communities they are in," Coon said. "They bring buildings back into use and often the communities are identified by their historic buildings.
If Coon proceeds with the project it will not be the first time he has worked in downtown Warren.
Coon in 2001 worked with attorney Martin White with the restoration of the former Abraham building, which is now the headquarters of White's law firm.
"The Abraham building had been vacant for several years," White said recently. "My plan was to focus on the restoration of the interior, but the outside was not very nice. We decided to restore the front facade. We learned that we qualified for the historic tax credit."
White described Coon's firm sending the entire summer on cleaning up the facade.
"They did a terrific job," he said. "They matched, tuck-pointed and sealed the brickwork."