If you've ever dismantled a baseball, you'll notice layers of different materials. Beneath the leather skin is a seeming tangle of string, and beneath that is a core of very hard rubber.
The Allegheny Center for the Arts building project conundrum that Warren City Government finds itself in is a lot like dissecting a baseball. At first glance it is a tangle of hazy organizational strings and a confused timeline. But, it has a core, and we believe the core can be discovered by cutting through the tangle.
The crux of the dilemma, we believe, is intrisically tied to the relationship between GRO-Warren and Warren Main Street that was established when GRO-Warren came on the scene.
If you'll recall, GRO-Warren was established as an umbrella agency to protect the Main Street concept from being washed away by financial ruin. Warren Main Street was broke. GRO-Warren was established to obtain new funding sources, keep the Main Street concept going and explore other projects to improve the downtown. One of those funding sources was the Pennsylvania Alliance for Cooperative Innovation, fronted at the time by Tim King. The Alliance gave $50,000 (which was to be an annual investment), and for that investment GRO-Warren would "help market" the Alliance's projects, according to a statement by GRO-Warren's executive director at the time and former Main Street director, Chris Cheronis. Cheronis would later blame the failure of another loan brokered by King for the failure of the project.
Through all of this Warren Main Street didn't disappear. It did, however, assume a subsidiary role under GRO-Warren's umbrella. In this capacity its mission would be "event-driven," according a statement by Mayor Mark Phillips to Main Street's board at the time.
Eleven months later, the city announced that a $500,000 anchor grant, sought on behalf of the city by GRO-Warren, would be loaned to GRO-Warren, which would repay the loan at the rate of $1,000 per month as soon as tenants started paying rent for ACA space. The loan repayments would establish a fund that could be used on other projects.
The core of this baseball is the relationship between GRO-Warren and Warren Main Street. It may take a court of law to decide which of those entities -or to what extent the two of them - bear the financial responsibility for the public money that disappeared into the ACA building on Liberty Street.
One basic question may be, was Warren Main Street simply a subsidiary of GRO-Warren at the time the funding was obtained from the state?
The next deals with ownership of the building. Yes, the deed is held by Warren Main Street, the successor to the Warren Business District Coalition. Although the deed was never officially transfered to GRO-Warren, GRO-Warren - and not Main Street -was the entity which entered into the grant-to-loan agreement with the city. Does the title to the property, in and of itself, make Main Street liable for the loan payments?
Answers to those questions might not translate to recouping the money loaned on the failed project, but they would go a long way toward resolving culpability.