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Director defends WRAP’s status


Published: Sun, March 4, 2012 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Ed Runyan

runyan@vindy.com

WARREN

Tony Iannucci was Warren’s elected auditor from 1984 to 1995.

Since 2005, he has been director of the Warren Redevelopment and Planning Corp., a nonprofit corporation that promotes commercial and business opportunity in Warren.

In both jobs, he has served the public while spending the public’s money.

But WRAP is different from a government agency.

As a corporation, WRAP is exempt from the state’s Public Meetings Act and Public Records Act, so it doesn’t have to respond to requests from the public for documents in its possession.

That has raised questions in the past about the public’s right to know how public tax dollars are being spent at WRAP.

But Iannucci says WRAP has withstood the attacks.

“We’ve had media attack us on that, but we’ve held firm. We’re a nonprofit,” he said, adding that Gov. John Kasich tapped into the same idea when he created the state’s new nonprofit economic-development corporation, JobsOhio.

JobsOhio is taking over most of the tasks formerly carried out by the Ohio Department of Development, a government agency required to follow the Public Meetings Act and Public Records Act.

“What [Kasich] is doing [by creating JobsOhio] is creating a WRAP at the state level,” Iannucci said. “In a state agency, it can be difficult to get something done in a timely manner. If they get the right people and do the right thing, it [JobsOhio] can be a good thing.”

The key for WRAP, Iannucci said, is that he can secure financial information from business executives to help determine whether their business is creditworthy. Many businesses won’t provide such information unless they are sure it will remain confidential, Iannucci said.

If Iannucci thinks the company is creditworthy, he will talk to Warren’s mayor, auditor and service-safety director and seek their assessment of whether certain grant money or loan programs the city has available should be extended to the company.

Warren has no economic-development office. Instead, WRAP handles those functions.

WRAP has been around since 1980, started by industrialist Alex Pendleton, who hoped WRAP would help restore vitality to downtown Warren after the exodus of Warren’s retailers to Eastwood Mall.

By the 1990s, WRAP was using a larger and larger share of government money — U.S. Small Business Administration loans primarily — to encourage economic development.

WRAP eventually took over operation of the city’s revolving-loan fund, which used money from the federal Community Development Block Grant program to provide companies with loans.

WRAP now annually gives or lends companies around $200,000 worth of government money in amounts of $35,000 to $40,000 in exchange for job creation through business expansion. WRAP has $1.7 million out in the community now.

Iannucci also is director of Sunshine, a nonprofit corporation that uses federal money and federal tax credits to encourage renovation and construction of housing for low- to moderate-income citizens.

In the past 15 years, Sunshine projects have resulted in construction of 114 homes and renovation of 34 more. A different federal source provided the funds for an additional 90 home rehabilitations.

According to the 2010 Form 990 tax returns WRAP and Sunshine submitted to the Internal Revenue Service, Iannucci earned $34,800 as director of WRAP and $37,908 as director of Sunshine.

WRAP also runs the Warren Business Exchange, a small-business incubator that operates on $88,000 in federal CDBG money annually.

WRAP operates the Design Review Committee, which tries to maintain the historic character of downtown, and WRAP also operates the city’s parking deck and employs the downtown parking-enforcement officers.

It also uses federal CDBG money to acquire properties such as the one the Wean Foundation bought last year to develop its new headquarters on West Market Street on Courthouse Square.

Iannucci said the city might not have attracted a corporation with as much to offer as the philanthropic Wean Foundation if not for WRAP.

“If the property was in the city’s name, the only way it could sell it is to put it up for bid, where we have more flexibility,” Iannucci said of WRAP.


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