For sale: prime downtown Warren real estate.
Where? 231-237 Pennsylvania Avenue West.
During its meeting Monday night, Warren City Council unanimously agreed to put the lots, which the city currently owns, up for sale.
Council appointed a committee last month to review all properties owned by the city and then make recommendations about disposition.
The lots on Pennsylvania Avenue are up for sale first.
Noting that the committee reviewed all properties originally designated part of the Impact Warren area, of which these lots are a part, "throughout the timeline of the project, numerous proposals for the properties" have been discussed, said City Manager Nancy Freenock. "The proposals are no longer under consideration."
In advocating for council to approve selling the Pennsylvania Avenue properties, she emphasized several conditions on which the property should be sold: accommodating the lease with Northwest Savings Bank regarding its use of the corner lot for construction trailers, a reserve bid amount, a provision that the property not be used for parking as well as a provision that development of the property must start within one year or the city can purchase the property back at the sale price.
Council then took aim at some of the conditions proposed by Freenock.
"We don't need to have a reserve," Councilman Sam Harvey said. "We're retaining the right to reject any bids.
Regarding the current lease, he asked Freenock, "Are you considering the city would be beneficiary of the lease funds or selling the right?"
She indicated that the city's intent is to sell the lease.
Harvey also disagreed with the no-parking and development provisions.
"I think in order to make sure we get bids and get this property out of the city's hands and into someone who is paying taxes, whatever the market will bear...is good enough," he said. "We don't need to specify it has to be used for parking or development rules."
Councilman Chris Park said the bank "would like to continue (the lease) through construction, theoretically. A one-year development guideline could conflict with the current lease."
"Maybe we should put like a five-year time frame in," Council Vice President Maurice Cashman said, "so the city has the right after five years if they wish to regain the property for whatever reason."
Councilman John Lewis then made a motion to put the property up for bid without any restrictions.
"We need to make a decision as to what requirements we want," Harvey said. He then amended the motion to limit the restrictions to honoring the pact with Northwest Savings and reserving the right to reject bids.
"If that's developed as parking, it could compete against (our) parking garage operating at a negative cash flow," Councilman Dr. Howard Ferguson said. "Buildings would be aesthetically more pleasing. The city is suffering because we can't use the number of spaces we have," referring to unoccupied spaces in the Clark Street parking garage.
"Buildings would generate more tax revenue as a parking lot," he added.
"I don't see it (parking) as the longest term highest value use," Harvey said. "The market will take care of that. It's prime downtown real estate."
City Solicitor Andrea Stapleford said that the property could be bid with the parking provision included and then could be removed if no suitable bids were received.
Park said the parking provision is the "city telling the purchaser what they can and can't do with the property they've purchased specifically to tell them we don't want competition. That's a slippery slope."
Freenock countered by asking whether the city has a "duty to the taxpayer to generate maximum profit for the parking garage or the one-time property sale?"
A vote to keep the parking provision was defeated in a 3-3 tie. A subsequent vote to keep the provision regarding the Northwest Savings Bank lease, and reserving the right to reject all bids, was approved unanimously.