From this morning’s Tribune

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Tribune logoGarden District blooming

September 14, 2014
Tribune Chronicle

The repopulation of the Garden District is turning into one of the most exciting and successful developments the City of Warren has experienced in a long, long time.

The effort began a few years ago when Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership, gregg’s gardens and Trumbull County Treasurer Sam Lamancusa’s office focused on rehabbing rather than strictly razing abandoned houses. The concept was bolstered by repurposing vacant lots into everything from side lots for residents to flower gardens to barley farms for locally produced beer to artistic endeavors and art education for kids. All along many houses were rehabbed by owner-occupants.

Then came local businessman Bill Casey and his wife ponying up $25,000 for the first renovation in the new ”Adopt-A-Home” program. Once sold, the owner-occupant can sit on the front porch and gaze across the street at the Vineyard on Vine, one of the most recently repurposed empty lots. Money from the sale will then go to the next rehab project.

Then came last week’s stunning announcement from the philanthropic group Trumbull 100 and its president Diana Sauer. Trumbull 100 donated $10,000 to Adopt-A-Home and pledged a dollar-for-dollar match of up to $15,000 more. That means a potential $40,000 infusion.

Then Sauer and her husband Kurt stepped up and provided $5,000 personally to leave just $10,000 more to max out Trumbull 100′s match.

Now we eagerly await who among Warren’s businesses, affluent residents and former residents will follow the Sauers and donate their own $5,000. We can even think of a few – Sam Covelli, John Payiavlas and Roger Ailes come to mind – who can add a zero to that.

The reward is watching their city rejuvenate from the inside out. The 22-block area, loosely defined by Park Avenue, Atlantic Street, Elm Road and High Street, can become a thriving community. Since it borders downtown and Harding High School, and stretches nearly to Packard Music Hall, the revitalization can bleed into these important points of interest.

A few components still missing are a sustained police presence, a clearly defined role for Warren City Schools and a banking commitment. Sustaining the repopulation effort requires a feeling of safety in the Garden District. It requires a financing mechanism to help families become homeowners. And since the city schools stand to benefit from increased enrollment, there should be a way they can contribute to the success.

Trumbull 100′s and the Sauers’ announcement fuel the momentum. Now is the time for others in the community to accelerate it even more.

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Why we can’t have a city planner

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415_PMH-outsideWho would have thought that the Packard Music Hall would be the key in the struggle to get a professional city planner in Warren?

The story is a little long and twisty, and for those who long to take a more professional and proactive approach to running Warren, it’s more than a little depressing as well. Here’s what happened.

Regular readers know of the efforts of the Resident Advisory Committee to get the Mayor and City Council to both implement the recommendations of the Warren Strategic Plan and bring a professional planner into the process. You probably also know that Mayor Franklin has blocked those efforts repeatedly over the past two years.

You can read a detailed summary of his position in an April 2014 post or in this Tribune article. In a nut shell, Mayor Franklin said we can’t afford a city planner, and even if we could we might only need one for a short time because planning isn’t really an ongoing need.

Now to the Packard Music Hall (PMH) and its roll in all this. The city has been paying a subsidy to PMH for many years. The cost has varied but has been around $300,000 per year for some time. The money went primarily towards paying the salaries and benefits of the employees who worked there.

Then earlier this year the city negotiated a contract with a company called JAC Management to take over operation of the hall. Part of the deal is that the city will continue paying the subsidy for at least the next three years; $300,000 next year, $250,000 the following year and $200,000 the year after that.

The Tribune called the idea that this would save the city money “false,” and anyone with a little business sense must wonder if a better deal for the city could not have been struck had the contract been put out to bid. After all, Sunrise Entertainment here in Warren has been successfully producing entertainment at both PMH and at the Amphitheater for several years. But there was no competitive bidding and this is the deal the administration made.

It would have been a better deal had JAC Management been required to take over paying the salaries of the city employees, since they were getting the subsidy; or if the Mayor, who promised City Council in an open meeting that he would not make the salaries and benefits of the employees a part of the general fund budget, had kept his word.

But as all this was transpiring, rumors were already flying that the Mayor was going to do what he said he would not, by placing one of the former PMH employees into the Engineering department as the new city planner, even though he has worked only at PMH for the previous 22 years and has no educational credentials nor working experience to suggest that he would make an effective city planner.

Well, rumors in Warren are like the Ebola virus — they spread far and fast and sometimes have devastating results. This was such a spectacularly bad idea that it now appears that the Mayor and Mr. Cantalamessa have gone to Plan B, in which the former head of PMH and his assistant, will both be working in either the waste water department or the finance department as “grants co-ordinator” and “assistant grants co-ordinator.”

This solution will probably be less politically troublesome to the Mayor and Mr. Cantalamessa. It won’t be quite as hard a slap in the face to the RAC and everyone who has been clamoring for a planner, but it is equally wrong as neither of these folks have grant writing experience nor waste water experience nor finance experience. Together the total compensation for these two people exceeds $200,000.

For that amount of money the city could have hired three people — an experienced city planner with a masters degree, and two experienced grant writers who might potentially bring millions of dollars in grants to the city. Millions will be left on the table because our new inexperienced and unskilled “grant coordinators” will never even know those grant opportunities exist.

Good planners and grant writers pay for themselves and then some, and can be the springboard for general economic growth. There is lots of evidence for this, but neither the Mayor nor the Safety Service Director are persuaded.

We would like to give you their point-of-view on this topic but we are unable. We have emailed them both twice asking for comments but have received no response. What they say privately is another matter.

We’d rather report facts than rumors, but since they won’t talk to us about anything substantive we have little choice, and this rumor has been around forever. In private they say it is all the fault of the union.

Given anti-union sentiment in this town, many of you will believe that. We do not, for to believe it means that Local 2501 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees actually runs the Warren city government, or at least that they are able to block any form of progress in this city.

If that is really so we have a much bigger problem than just the lack of a city planner, and the Mayor should be dealing publicly and vigorously with that problem.

What we believe is that the unions want what is best for the city just like any other citizen, but that the current administration has not tried to negotiate with them to achieve progress, nor has it tried to gain general public support for doing what is right for the city. And therefore — it is not doing what is right for the city.

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Make one dollar = $2

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double-your-moneyIf you would like to help the effort to revitalize and repopulate the Garden District, a new program funded by the Trumbull 100 will match every dollar you contribute* with a dollar from them. It’s very easy to do. Just send a check to:

Ms. Nancy Jastatt-Jergens
The Community Foundation of Trumbull County 
7 West State Street, Suite 301
Sharon, PA 16146
 

Here is the important part: be sure to put on the memo line of the check, “Home Sponsorship Fund” so they will know to alert the T-100 for the matching funds. If you have any questions just call Nancy at 330-720-6205 at the foundation and she will be glad to help you.

This is a great opportunity to make a difference at twice the rate you could on your own.

* Up to a maximum of $15,000

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Buy this house!

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DSC_0678As promised yesterday, today’s post will give full attention to the house at 453 Vine Avenue just renovated and ready for you to move into for the full Garden District experience. Credit must first be given to Bill and Jan Casey for putting up the money for the renovation, to Dave Crawford’s American Pinnacle Construction for doing a fantastic job, and to TNP for overseeing the project and coming in on budget and ahead of schedule. Be sure to read yesterday’s post about future home renovation plans in the Garden District.

Now to the house, which is offered for $29,000. All the photos here are of the home and below is what we wrote for the listing we bought on ForSaleByOwner.com:

DSC_0647“This charming cottage, in the heart of the Garden District, is newly remodeled so it will feel like you are moving into a brand new home. This home has cool, new industrial-chic touches that blend perfectly with the architectural charm found only in Century homes. Both bathrooms and the kitchen are updated. The furnace and the majority of the windows are brand new. This amazingly low priced home leaves the new owners with opportunities to use their own creativity and ideas to suit their own style.

This home boasts a huge rear deck that is partially covered and just off the kitchen — perfect for entertaining. The large backyard is completely fenced and very private. There is plenty of room for the kids to play, build a garden, or add a fire pit. The home also has a nice front porch big enough for a couple of comfortable chairs or porch swing.  Best of all, it overlooks the future site of gregg’s gardens grape vineyard – The Vineyard on Vine. By next spring you’ll be able to have coffee on your front porch while watching the grapes grow.

10544250_707164632697725_2878385953214612992_oAnd don’t underestimate the general benefits of living in the Garden District — Warren’s coolest up and coming neighborhood. The neighbors are outgoing and the neighborhood is within walking distance to Warren’s historic downtown, Warren Harding, the Amphitheater, Mocha House, Sunrise and the farmer’s market. With more than 50 gardens in the neighborhood, 3 of which are community gardens, you will have plenty of space to work on your green thumb. The 70 new bird houses, located throughout the Garden District, are sure to bring music to your ears. The craftsmanship of the 12 Abbottonian stone wall planters built within the last 18 months have become “corner stones” of the Garden District.

DSC_0664If it is affordable charm you are after, then this home and neighborhood are for you. 453 Vine Avenue is being offered for sale to an owner occupant by the Trumbull County Land Bank. For more details visit their web site (http://trumbullcountylandbank.org/index.php/properties/Entry-Detail/5-Renovated%20Properties/323-453%20Vine) or call Shawn Carvin, the Concierge of Vine and a very helpful guy, at 330-469-6828. This property is eligible for downpayment assistance to qualified buyers. For more information on the Home Ownership Loan Program please contact the City of Warren Community Development Department at (330) 841-2595 ext. #11.”

Maybe this house is for you but if not, please forward this post to anyone you know who might want to join the Garden District land rush.

 

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Fantastic news!

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DSC_0718What a great day! We had a press conference this morning to announce that our first private home renovation at 453 Vine Avenue is now ready for you to move in and enjoy the good life in the Garden District. The renovation was funded by Bill and Jan Casey (below with grandchild) through a fund they established for this purpose. Details here.

Well today, The Trumbull 100 donated $10,000 to the Adopt-a-home program, plus has agreed to match the next $15,000 donated to the fund. And to really get things going, Diane Sauer, President of T-100, and her husband Kurt Sauer, personally donated $5000 which will be matched by T-100.

DSC_0722So, if we can sell 453 Vine soon, and we max out the Trumbull 100 challenge, we will have enough money to renovate two more Garden District homes very soon. This is the way movements grow — momentum begets momentum! If you would like to donate to the Adopt-a-home fund, and have your gift matched by T-100, contact Nancy Jastatt-Jergens at the Community Foundation of Trumbull County at 330-720-6205.

The house on Vine deserves its own post and will get one tomorrow, but until then check out the photos below and you can view our online listing here. We’ll leave you with this question: wouldn’t it be lovely to sit on your front porch and watch the grapes grow in the vineyard gregg’s gardens is planting across the street?

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