By Ed Runyan
Downtown business operators say they look forward to the opportunity to welcome new restaurant-bar neighbors, now that city council has approved a new downtown revitalization district.
“I think it’s a great idea. I think they’re trying to follow what Youngstown’s doing — bringing restaurants downtown like Applebee’s, only on a smaller scale,” said Adam Gardner, who opened Gardner’s Green Thumb All Natural Market on Courthouse Square one year ago with his wife, Lisa.
Council approved the 87-acre district in November after lobbying officials to get Ohio law changed to allow a city the size of Warren to obtain the designation, which allows the district to obtain up to 15 more liquor licenses.
A stipulation is that the licenses will be approved only for businesses that make 75 percent or more of their revenue from food and the rest from liquor sales.
“People would prefer to have more restaurants,” said Michelle Scott, front-desk manager at the Best Western motel on North Park Avenue downtown. “We need something open on the weekend, longer hours.”
Patty Cleary-Talstein, a board member of the Trumbull Art Gallery who was decorating a front window at TAG’s new Park Avenue location Friday, said she thinks downtown Warren could be an attractive location for night life.
“I’ve always said downtown Warren has more to offer than some of these smaller destination places because of Warren’s river and architecture,” she said.
She noted that in some towns, it takes only one successful new business to infuse new life into a place.
“I think having restaurants downtown is a good thing — like Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia, or West Side Market in Cleveland,” said Augie Thumm, owner of Thumm’s Bike and Clock Shop on West Market Street.
“If you want to get a cold beer and a sausage sandwich, you can get both of those things. When we go to the big cities, those are the places we head to — a fun place to eat and socialize,” he said.
The legislation created a revitalization district along West Market and East Market streets to Chestnut Street and some of Franklin Street, South Street and Main Avenue.
"I’m all for commerce. It’s bound to spill over to the retail side,” said Thom Duma, owner of Thom Duma Jewelers on Courthouse Square.
“With the courthouse and the amphitheater, you have professional people. It’s the next step,” he said of the development of Warren.
Fred Flowers, owner of F&S Auto on Pine Avenue Southeast, said he thinks it would help if the city were able to remove some of the vacant buildings near his business to provide more parking or more space for construction of a restaurant. “I think there’s not enough parking downtown right now,” he said.
Councilman John Brown, one of the city officials who lobbied for the change in state law allowing the district, said there’s little for the city to do now that the district is in place except wait for business people to apply to the state for the new liquor licenses.
There may be people who think Warren has become unsafe because of recent criminal activity making news, but that is “confined to a small area,” Brown said.
“Warren is very safe. Downtown is statistically safer than anywhere,” he added.
At least one restaurant on Courthouse Square has indicated that it will apply for one of the new licenses, Brown said.