Groups look to revitalize downtown
One program helps preserve historic sites while bringing in new businesses.
By AMANDA GARRETT
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
WARREN -- There was an unusual sight in downtown Warren on Oct. 28.
Instead of driving past the shops on East Market Street to get to malls or other suburban shopping areas, more than 200 people came to downtown Warren to shop on a Saturday.
The influx of people was a result of the opening of Market on the Square, a new crafts and farmer's market in the old Army and Navy store across from Courthouse Square -- proving that people are willing to come downtown, owner Holly Taylor said.
"We are trying to provide people with a reason to come downtown and shop," she said. "This is a place where people can find a unique and locally made Christmas gift or decoration."
The Army and Navy store had been empty. Businesses such as Market on the Square are just what redevelopment groups in Warren are looking for to revitalize the downtown area.
Here's the goal
Establishing thriving businesses is part of Warren Redevelopment and Planning Corp. efforts to make downtown Warren a nationally recognized historic center.
Last month, Warren G.R.O.W.s (Grassroots Revitalization of Warren) -- an umbrella organization of WRAP -- filed an application with Downtown Ohio Inc. to become a Main Street Community. Through Downtown Ohio, the city will also be able to seek certification as a National Main Street Center from the National Trust.
Through financial grants and strategic planning, the Main Street program helps Ohio communities preserve historic sites while bringing new businesses into the community.
The Main Street Community requires that communities have a comprehensive plan to bring and maintain businesses in the downtown business district, WRAP director Anthony Iannucci said.
"Instead of a business-by-business approach, it's a sustainable program that measures the accomplishments of every business in the downtown area," he said
The downtown business district boundaries are defined as between Atlantic and Fulton streets to the north and south, and Chestnut and Tod avenues to the east and west for the purposes of the Main Street application.
WRAP and Warren G.R.O.W.s are putting together a program that will help recruit and maintain businesses in the downtown.
Among the plans they have designed is an economic toolbox, which gives small business owners step-by-step instructions on how to open a business in Warren.
Warren G.R.O.W.s is also looking at starting an economic incubator in one of the vacant buildings downtown.
The incubator would allow businesses to start out small and find their footing before they expand to their own building.
WRAP is also working with city government to provide income tax incentives and rebates as a recruitment tool for new businesses.
Improving the appearance of downtown is another key to downtown revitalization, Iannucci said.
WRAP and the city have added exterior lighting to the Trumbull County Courthouse and there will be new red-and-white street signs around downtown to improve the city's appearance.
In March, the city will also be putting up informational kiosks around Courthouse Square that will educate visitors on Warren's historic places.
The Market on the Square did not receive any financial assistance from either WRAP or Warren G.R.O.W.s, but Taylor said she has received plenty of encouragement from those groups.
"They're willing to pass out fliers, tell their friends and neighbors about the market and come and shop themselves," she said. "I don't think I've ever met a more helpful group of people."
Taylor plans on holding the market every Saturday through Dec. 23 to take advantage of the Christmas shopping season.
If the market continues to be successful, Taylor plans to open again in the spring and feature fresh produce from area farmers.
"If other businesses see how successful we can be on the weekend, I hope they might be encouraged to stay open as well," she said.
Iannucci said WRAP should find out by mid-December if Warren has been accepted into the Main Street program, but either way, he believes the city is on the right track.
"With the new amphitheater and the improvements to downtown and Courthouse Square I think more and more businesses are going to take advantage of the opportunities downtown," he said.