Start the ball rolling

Council approves redevelopment proposal for Liberty St. property

The former Loranger building located at the intersection of Clark St. and Liberty St. in downtown Warren. Plans are in the works for redevelopment of the site into commercial, retail, office and hospitality space.

A redevelopment proposal for a prominent downtown Warren building at the base of Liberty Street has received the blessing of Warren City Council.

City Manager Nancy Freenock said that there is $10,000,000 in a state line item in Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) funds earmarked for Warren County.

She said that the city is submitting a grant application for $4,500,000 of that total for redevelopment in the area of Liberty St., Pennsylvania Ave., Clark St. and the parking garage though the governor has not taken action on that request.

The plan Freenock outlined would take $360,000 of that $4,500,000 and allocate it to acquisition and closing costs of portion of the Loranger building located at the base of Liberty Street.

Freenock said that HIY, Inc., whose president is Ruzhdi Bakalli, would be a sub-grantee on the loan.

“Rehabilitation and occupancy would have a positive economic impact,” Freenock said.

She told council that she has a letter from the Commonwealth Finance Agency who is “prepared to loan HIY, Inc. over $2 million for rehabilitation of the building.” She said that also includes a grant mount of $455,000.

“These funds cannot be used for acquisition,” Freenock said, noting that Bakalli has “been in contact with multiple tenants.”

Bakalli addressed council and asked them to look at the large development projects he has completed.

“This is a prime piece of real estate,” Freenock said.

“I would have to say, dealing with Mr. Bakalli, he is right on the development he has done in Warren. (He) has a plan to fully develop this building (and) put it in a shape to rent out various spaces, put it in a shape to rent out various spaces (and is) in conversations with a number of agencies to do rentals. He has a vision for it. The state wants this project to happen.”

“For this project, the state approached me and asked ‘can I develop the project?'” Bakalli said. “We are, I think by the end of the year, will close on a $2.2 million loan.”

Bakalli said that once completed, the building “will be a prime commercial space” as well as offer office, hospitality and retail space.

He said completing the project will “make a big difference to the downtown area of Warren (and) a big benefit for the City of Warren.”

Councilman John Lewis said he has a “concern about this.

“This is the same person that is in charge of… (the) Home Street School… development which has never occurred. Council should be very cautious about entering into an agreement. (A) proposal was out there and never completed.”

He said that council is “basically agreeing to approve that the state pay for this, or we’re paying for it with RACP.”

Freenock said she cared Lewis’ concern but said that Bakalli was “perfectly within his rights not to develop” Home Street. “The Redevelopment Authority has learned a lesson and rectified that. The property has been maintained, grass has been cut. The cost to build single family homes exceeds what he believes he can get back.

She said city staff were supportive of this initiative.

“I jumped without the proper market research,” Bakalli said of Home Street. “I tried everything to develop. There’s no way the cost will be, not to make profit, just to count even. I did invest. It is my loss, $70,000 in taking down the building.”

He said he “still did not give up on that” but asked council to “please look at the bigger picture.”

Before council approved the city’s RACP application, with Councilman Richard Kolcharno the sole no vote, Cashman pointed out that if the RACP money doesn’t come through that Bakalli would be responsible for the acquisition price.

“It is not without risk to him,” he said. “He is willing to do it. We should also be his partner in this.”