Details are starting to take shape regarding what the East Side Gateway Renaissance Project that has been bantered around for several months might actually look like.
The City of Warren Planning Commission met for a work session on Monday night and hammered out in draft form its proposal for a funding program to address commercial facades on Pennsylvania Ave. East.
While the proposal would still need the blessing of the Redevelopment Authority, which has the proposed funding to be utilized in the facade program, and possibly the approval of Warren City Council, significant groundwork was laid during the Monday session.
City Planner David Hildebrand explained that a similar facade program was initiated in 2004 in the Impact Warren area and expanded to the downtown commercial district in 2008, with a maximum grant of $5,000.
He said the RDA has approximately $200,000 that "the RDA controls right now or at least administers." Commission Chairman Don Nelson asked how much of that funding could be utilized in a facade program. Hildebrand said "at least $100,000."
The commission spent the majority of the session reviewing the grant application and guidelines used previously, critiquing it to fit this program, which was suggested to function in a combined grant and loan program, open to commercial entities on the east side from Conewango Ave. to the Glade Bridge.
After much discussion, consensus was found on a maximum $5,000 loan with $5,000 match from the commercial entity, zero percent interest over five years, with the grant element to come into the picture in that if the first 30 month's payments are made on time and the project is satisfactorily completed, the remaining 30 will be forgiven.
When an entity expressed interest in pursuing this funding, which the commission concurred could be utilized for facade work but also sidewalks or landscaping, the project would be pitched to a design committee comprised of the commission, city staff and representation from the RDA for approval.
Concern was expressed regarding who would be responsible for the funding in a tenant/landlord relationship.
"We need to incentive this properly," said Commission member Raymond Pring, "so the landlord sees the benefit to it. If we make a program and no one is interested, it doesn't help anyone."
Hildebrand explained that, in addition to the $200,000, the RDA is also receiving between $2,000 and $2,300 in loan payments from previous loans issued. "This is the payment coming back in from the original loan," he said.
While the focus was initially on facade development, Commission member Bob Dilks asked "how can you make this a program that is hard to pass up?" He suggested the sidewalk element. Pring suggested that sidewalks would deliver "the most bang for your buck."
Once funding is dispersed, City Manager Nancy Freenock suggested that recipients be required to submit receipts before loan payment is issued. She suggested the city could manage such an initiative, which would ensure the loan money is spent in a timely manner.
Nelson tasked city administration with preparing a formal set of guidelines from their discussions. Dilks suggested it be the focal point of their next regular meeting, slated for May 21 at 7:30 a.m.