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It’s time for Warren to back riverfront plans

Going with the flow

Times Observer photo by Josh Cotton The site of a proposed downtown boat launch along the Allegheny River.

We write to request support by Warren City Council on Monday to secure the necessary funding to proceed with the Riverfront Development Project — an essential element to further establish Warren as an active and attractive destination and dramatically enhance our ability to retain and attract residents and businesses to our community.

In 2017, a study was commissioned by the City of Warren Redevelopment Authority with technical assistance provided by CT Consultants and local support provided by a Steering Committee of 19 local residents, a Business Retention and Attraction Focus Group of 7, a Historic Preservation Focus Group of 10, City Council and the City of Warren Planning Commission. These groups completed numerous local surveys and listening sessions from which CT Consultants compiled the report “Experience Warren, a Strategic Plan for Our Downtown.” In that plan, the highest priority for Investment and Public space improvements was to “Create better connections to Allegheny River and Conewango Creek.”

Aligned with that study, the City of Warren recently received a proposed “Implementable Comprehensive Plan” from Macken Engineering, which has been recommended for adoption by the City Planning Commission and will soon be available for public review and comment. A key strategy step presented in this plan directs the City to “Support additional mixed use and recreational development/redevelopment along the Allegheny River.” The elements of this effort are included in the Warren Riverfront Development Project and include:

¯ A multi-use river access ramp.

¯ Boat tie-up docking system, including handicap canoe/kayak accessibility features.

¯ Stepped river-bank viewing/access area.

¯ Realignment of Clark Street and Langdon Drive

¯ Upgraded parking areas adjacent to Clark Street, including installation of EV charging stations

¯ Extension of the Breeze Point Landing riverwalk eastward to the Conewango Creek

¯ Addition of a bicycle pump track and skills park

To provide further background, this entire project was submitted to the Build-Back-Better Regional Challenge initiative of the Economic Development Agency as part of the PA Wilds Outdoor Recreation Industry Hub application. Unfortunately, the regional application was not selected for funding.

With that outcome, Warren City Council is now faced with a critical decision point relative to the project and the future of our community.

Had the Build-Back-Better (BBB) application been awarded, previous financial commitments to the project made by both City Council and the Warren County Commissioners in the amount of $500,000 each, would have been adequate to match funds from the BBB and state RACP programs. These pledges would have enabled the project to move forward to completion. The lack of BBB funding impacts both the match funding structure, as well as the ability to complete all of the project elements as a single project. The impact of this is significant and carries with it a deadline that is fast approaching.

The Commonwealth RACP contract intended to be utilized for the Riverfront Development project provides $1.5 million, which must be matched with non-state funds of an additional $1.5 million to meet the contractual obligations of the program. RACP allocations have defined timelines that must be met to obtain access to the funds. In the case of this particular RACP award, the deadline for submission of the detailed project work scope, including proof of committed match funds, is December 23, 2022. If this deadline is not met the contract will be voided and funding will be rescinded by the state.

Currently the committed matched funds available include $500,000 from City of Warren and $500,000 from Warren County. We applaud both City and County leadership for their vision, commitment and collaboration on this project – one that comes highly-recommended by several studies and as noted, will have many direct benefits to our community.

On Monday, a proposal from City Administration to City Council will be presented for action, recommending that the City commit the remaining (and necessary) $500,000 to the project in support the project work scope submission required to secure the matched state funding. While the combined $3 million will not fully complete the Riverfront Development project, it does allow for the project cornerstone, the river access ramp and associated access roadway and parking areas, to proceed unencumbered. These elements of the project require the most substantial engineering and permitting work in advance of construction, simply due to the involvement of activities connected to the waterway.

It is our understanding that funds, not tied to general operating revenues or expenses, exist to allow this increased commitment by City Council to this project. This was recently supported by the Times Observer article “Council narrows in on ’23 budget.”

In our eyes, this is not a boat ramp… this is a comprehensive riverfront development project that will connect us back to the rivers that perpetuated the start of our wonderful community, channel access, activity and future development to our beautiful downtown and enhance our ability to drive new commerce and population growth.

As the key economic and community development group in the county, we feel we cannot sit back and expect progress to happen on its own… we need to take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves and have the vision and the courage to move Warren forward. We see this project as a long-term investment in Warren’s future and a necessary step in our evolution.

The WCCBI fully supports and encourages all Warren City Council members to vote in favor of the additional $500,000 in funding, allowing this project to proceed – a project which has been consistently identified by Warren County residents to be of the highest priority to enhance the attractiveness and desirability of our community for current and future visitors, residents, and businesses and better position Warren for a bright and prosperous future.

Jim Decker is president; Hank LeMeur is board chairman and Shawn Walker is board vice chair of the WCCBI Executive Committee.

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