By JACOB PERRYMAN
Tim King has officially left the buildings.
Following an e-mail inquiry to King regarding future plans for properties involved in the apparently defunct convention center project in Warren, King responded on Wednesday, "I am no longer participating on the Warren-based projects and can offer you no information or details."
King, through his work with a number of development entities, has ties to a number of failed projects inside and outside of the city, including the ill-fated Allegheny Center for the Arts building.
The largest of them, however, was the hotel/convention center project on which King was listed as lead developer.
The building in question, located between city properties and Insert Molding Technologies on Clark Street, is listed in assessment records as belonging to Warren Hospitality Associates. Warren Hospitality is also the lessee in an agreement with the city for its properties on Clark Street as part of efforts to develop a convention center.
Warren Hospitality Associates underwent Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings in 2011. At the time, King claimed efforts by Warren Development Group to acquire Warren Hospitality drove the filing.
"It's an arranged acquisition through a Chapter 11 process." King said at the time. "Our funder required that Warren Hospitality Associates' current owner put the entity in Chapter 11, so that the transaction occurred under a Chapter 11 process. This ensures our funder and our acquiring entity, Warren Development Group, that there are no liabilities, other than that which have been conveyed to us. The new owners of Warren Hospitality Associates will be Warren Development Group."
It is not clear whether than acquisition ever actually took place.
The Warren Convention Center Authority (WCCA), which was formed to act as liaison to the city for convention center development, disbanded this year, leaving the city footing the bill for more than $16,000 in obligations. WCCA disbanded following failure to acquire matching private funds for a grant to develop the convention center.
"At this time we inform the WCCA that the IFIP (Infrastructure and Facilities Improvement Program} Grant is no longer applicable nor required and there is no need to continue the work with WCCA in regards to providing any financial assistance to the project. In our work to move forward we will provide for repayment of all funds advanced to the WCCA by the City of Warren. We thank the WCCA for their work and participation through a very arduous period," King said in a letter to the in May of this year. "The financing for the project (debt portion) will be no more than 10 years and very likely less... debt parties moving forward with us to determine the grant to be unnecessary burden on the development team in regards to the overall project design, construction, administration and management work ahead."
Warren Hospitality still holds a lease on the property adjacent to the portion of the former Loranger Manufacturing building it owns that was to be part of the convention center.
Warren Development Group was also involved in the failed Allegheny Center for the Arts (ACA) project on Liberty Street.
The ACA project's subsequent financial collapse, following the receipt of a $500,000 loan from the city, which was funded from a state Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) grant, led to an DCED financial review of the matter.
The investigation led to a report implicating the funds were misappropriated by GRO-Warren, the city's downtown redevelopment entity, which had financial and operational ties to King. The report contained details of funds spent on projects other than the ACA project, which was the only project approved for grant funding. The city, as the actual grantee, agreed to repay the funds over time into a revolving loan account.
GRO-Warren disbanded before results of the DCED probe were released. The city is currently discussing litigation against GRO-Warren and other entities in an attempt to recover some funds from the grant.
GRO-Warren was formed as a non-profit in 2009 as an umbrella group to provide funding for struggling Warren Main Street programs.
"(Main Street) would have to close its doors," then Main Street President Chris Cheronis said at the time. "Main Street had no money. There was no money to sustain it."
Cheronis served as GRO-Warren's executive director.
GRO-Warren signed an agreement to become a member of the Pennsylvania Alliance for Cooperative Innovation (PA Alliance), a group which at the time listed King as vice president. Cheronis said King approached her about the partnership, and the idea for the ACA project developed from there. PA Alliance was already involved in plans to develop a convention center in Warren through the Impact Warren project and the city, in turn, had a representative to PA Alliance.
"Main Street had this project (the ACA) which it could bring to the table," Cheronis said at the time. "We sat down with Tim King and worked out an agreement."
Warren Development Group incorporated as a limited partnership with Kinzua Development Associates. Kinzua Development, meanwhile, incorporated with Cheronis as signatory.
In September 2010, Cheronis discussed plans to build a multi-story building for higher education and a waste water treatment plant in Warren. King was also involved with plans through PA Alliance and Kinzua Development. King said at the time both projects were intended as private real estate transactions. Neither ever materialized. The treatment plant idea was subsequently dropped, and the higher education center was never built.
Dan Ristau, current president of Warren Main Street, said, referring to some of the property that was earmarked for the hotel/convention center, "I see the city is looking to jettison some properties including those that have been held in reserve. It'll be interesting to watch now and see what the city does with those properties."
Warren Mayor Mark Phillips, who also served as president of GRO-Warren, was unaware of King's disassociation with city projects.
"This is all new information to me," Phillips said on Wednesday. "Someone else at the city may have had more recent contact with Mr. King. I don't know. But I, myself, have not been in contact with him for many months. We certainly, as a city, will take any and all action available to review any agreements and act appropriately to free ourselves of any and all obligations. In regards to the Clark Street property, if the city could free itself from the lease, we would certainly want to do that."
Ristau was less surprised.
"I really think he has found out the door has closed on him here and closed firmly. The city council has stepped away at this point and so have many others," Ristau said.
Other than his short reply to the Times Observer email, King could not be reached to expand upon his comments.