The city's residents are planning the downtown's future.
By PETER H. MILLIKEN
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
WARREN -- A well-organized, community-based volunteer group is preparing a master plan for the revitalization of downtown, based on the idea that a city's rebirth starts with its center.
"Rather than going from the entire city and then working in, we started with the downtown," said Anthony Iannucci Jr., director of the Warren Redevelopment and Planning Corp., an economic development consultant to the city.
"For the city and for the city's identity, this is something that everybody can relate to. Everybody's got an interest in the downtown."
The group members asked themselves how to develop and grow the downtown into an economically viable center. Courthouse Square, the community amphitheater and Mahoning River provide "a natural setting for downtown development," Iannucci said.
The residents and business leaders are working to improve their own community, rather than hiring expensive out-of-town consultants, Iannucci said.
"It's important that it's done, and done here, and done with the people that are going to have to live with the results."
'Main Street' approach
The effort is based on the "Main Street" approach developed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It is hoped that the downtown plan could be implemented over two to three years. Then, the effort would expand to a citywide approach, he said.
Those participating in the effort, which started two years ago, are organized into four committees: Organization and steering, design, economic restructuring, and promotion and marketing.
The organization committee's task is to build a framework of business and civic groups, merchants, bankers, property owners and public officials committed to downtown's rebirth. It is led by jeweler Thom Duma.
The design committee, led by architect Kim Phillips, is concerned with the appearance and attractiveness of the central business district.
This committee has suggested better signs identifying the entrance to the amphitheater, establishing pedestrian crosswalks in the courthouse area, and a study of how traffic light timing can be used to slow motor vehicles and assist pedestrians. It suggests signs to identify the gateway to the Courthouse Square district, downtown points of interest and parking areas.
The economic restructuring committee analyzes market forces to develop long-term revitalization plans to promote business retention and growth and recruitment of new businesses. This committee is led by Heather McMahon, the city's community development director.
Among its goals are determining the market for downtown based on economic data and adjacent industry; creating an economic development "toolbox" of loans, tax incentives and other programs that encourage downtown investment; and attracting middle and upper income renters and homeowners to live in or near downtown.
"The important part of a downtown is that you've got to have people living there," Iannucci said.
The promotion and marketing committee's job is to market downtown as a destination and entice shoppers, investors and visitors. Street festivals, retail events and tourism are some of the tools. This committee, led by Jim Fogarty, has registered www.welcometowarren.com to promote downtown and is working on a logo to be used consistently to promote the city.
This committee is also working on developing a wireless Internet "hot spot" in the courthouse area to attract businesses and the public. The committee wants to reach people looking for entertainment, culture and sightseeing; businesses looking for inexpensive downtown real estate; and people working in other cities who would view Warren as a "bedroom community" with cost-effective housing.
Public meetings will continue to be held as Warren's downtown plan is developed, Iannucci said. When the plan is complete, it will go before city council for approval.