GRO-Warren is no more.
At the tender age of not-quite 3, it succumb to financial malnutrition and general malaise.
And yet, one could argue that GRO-Warren was the victim of a protracted stillbirth. From the first trickled news of its conception, throughout its sometimes contentious, sometimes mysterious life, it was an organization founded on the best principles but constructed of shaky alliances.
Austensibly a means to carry on the work of the nearly bankrupt Warren Main Street Program, GRO-Warren was created weeks or months before its official birth announcement in late January 2009. It would be a public-private partnership involving the City of Warren and the Pennslvania Alliance for Cooperative Innovation. It would receive funding from both as well as money from the administration of state and federal grants.
Its work would be to promote and develop Warren's downtown, continue Streetscape (which had begun a couple years before) and act essentially as the city's economic development arm. It would also do the bidding of its private partner, the PACI.
And that, we believe, was its Achilles heel.
Throughout its life, it was difficult to tell where the public left off and the private began. Over a span of several months there were announcements of grand plans, of universities and arts centers, of a hotel and conference center and more. The grand plans evaporated into the ether, and the credibility of GRO-Warren faded with them.
The arts center and its companion black windows project went belly-up, leaving Liberty Street with a boarded-up facade and the city with an embarrassing bailout.
GRO-Warren was a noble but failed experiment for a city anxious to improve.
Should Warren give up? Absolutely not. But, it should learn from the GRO-Warren gambit and not make the same mistake twice. Public-private partnerships are fraught with potential hazards.
Warren needs an economic development arm. It can be public. It can be private. It should not be both.