Members of the Downtown Warren Partnership expressed concern at their Wednesday morning meeting about a downtown parking proposal unveiled last week and due to be addressed by Warren City Council that evening.
Gregory Wilson, Warren City intern, took questions and suggestions from those attending, including concerns from retail store and restaurant owners about losing customers because of the added parking expense.
Wilson explained the $300,000 currently subsidized by the city for parking may better be used for infrastructure and aesthetics to draw retail customers downtown.
Julia Tarr, a downtown business owner, synopsized concerns, saying, "We are on a mission to build our historic downtown." The city needs to make it "as user friendly as possible."
The discussion on parking was one of a trio of talks during the meeting, all with an eye on the future of Warren County.
The 16 attending first heard Chris Hobbs and Adam Meneo discuss The Trails at Jakes Rocks, a Pennsylvania Kinzua Pathways (PKP) project in partnership with the Warren County Chamber of Business and Industry (WCCBI) and in cooperation with the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford. The mountain bike trail - an effort to increase tourism - will encompass more than 40 miles in a stacked-loop system for riders of all skill levels.
Hobbs discussed the positive "impact a trail like this can have on a local economy. People will travel 100, 200 miles to get to a trail system" like the one proposed and stay in local hotels, shop at retail stores and eat at Warren's restaurants.
The Trails at Jakes Rocks will be the only system of its kind in this part of the country, according to committee member Inez Nelson.
The committee coordinating the trail efforts is planning public awareness activities in Warren as well as Bradford, Kane and other regional locations to help this "epic biking system" grow, Hobbs explained. The Allegney National Forest, on which Jakes Rocks is located, is a "very strong supporter" of the trail, and the committee is hoping for approval of the plan from the ANF by the end of the year.
The project should be ready to launch in April 2015 at a cost of $700,000 for phase one. Additional plans include a GPS component to get location, history, flora and fauna, Hobbs said. Projected budget for the entire project is $2.3 million, and grant proposals are underway.
Hobbs added that the benefits of the new bike trail go beyond the actual ride. UPB students are gaining education and life experience; the students are acting as the website design firm for the project. Also, the trail will help build Warren County as a destination location.
"It's a great win-win," he said.
Jim Decker, WCCBI president/CEO, said they hope to use the information building on Rt. 59 above Kinzua Dam to offer information ... so those using the bike trail can access information about downtown restaurants and businesses.
Tataboline Enos, the PA Wilds small business ombudsman, talked to the business representatives attending about the "Artisan Trail." PA Wilds offers the coordination for businesses to carry artisan products produced in the area, and they become part of an online directory helping tourists find unique products, "all these cool things" made by local artisans, Enos said, making Warren County an "authentic destination."
The Artisan Trail is a "regional asset," Enos explained. It's "really great for our area."
PA Wilds has added public art (large murals and building art) to its directory, and it plans to add a division for craft wineries, distilleries, breweries and hard cider mills. A second expansion will include craft ag/food products like jelly, maple syrup, soap and candy. PA Wilds also hopes to have a trailer for vendor shows at some point in the future, and Enos said they are planning their own annual event to gather together the artisans and vendors from the Artisan Trails' 12 counties of rural Pennsylvania.