Warren Council Discuss Future Demise Of Parking Garage

The functional life of “Big Blue,” the Clark Street Parking Garage, is less than originally anticipated. City officials in Warren, Pa., are beginning the process of exploring what might come next. P-J photo by Josh Cotton

WARREN, Pa. — Big Blue isn’t going to live forever. But the Clark Street Parking Garage is closer to its demise than was originally projected.

Officials in Warren, Pa., are beginning to explore possibilities for when that day comes.

The Warren City Council certified a grant application this week submitted by City Manager Nancy Freenock for federal BUILD — Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development — grant funding. The Federal Department of Transportation announced in April that $1.5 billion would be available in this round of funding.

A grant for formation of a parking plan and complete streets plan was one of three filed by city staff in advance of a July 19 deadline.

“We’ve never applied,” Freenock said. “Rural communities do not need a match. The minimum project grant is $1 million.”

Freenock told council she is “asking for forgiveness rather than permission” as the grants have already been submitted. Mayor Maurice Cashman told council that he acknowledged the time constraints and gave Freenock the go ahead to file in advance of the deadline.

According to the application, the city’s participation in the state Early Intervention Program resulted in a “key” recommendation for a parking plan.

“The EIP also recommends that the City begin to plan for the demise of the Clark Street Parking Garage,” the application states, noting that the estimated remaining useful life is seven years.

Freenock acknowledged in the application that it is “impossible to make repairs to the existing garage as there were deficiencies in the initial design that cannot be corrected.

“There were design flaws that were not apparent when constructed,” the application states. “These flaws have led to the early demise of the current structure and it is anticipated that the garage will not last beyond the year 2025.”

“The city has attempted to make repairs to alleviate some of the deficiencies but it has become cost prohibitive to continue to do so,” the application states. “The benefits to be gained pursuing this course are minimal…. (T)his garage has been studied by multiple engineers for the past several years. None have come up with an adequate solution.”

But it’s not as simple as demolishing Big Blue and erecting a replacement.

“Due to the lack of available alternative parking,” the application explains, “it is imperative that a new garage be designed and constructed. Due to the lack of available alternative parking, it is necessary that the new garage be constructed and operational prior to demolition of the existing structure.”

If that seven year window is correct — Freenock said it could be a few years either way before the demise would come — movement would need to take place soon.

“A feasibility plan is the first step in securing much-needed state and private investment to build a facility that can be used by individuals that work in the city,” she wrote in the application. “Because the city is facing financial distress, it cannot afford this vitally important planning project.”

The other component of this application — a complete streets plan — is aimed to “address the safety of pedestrians, cyclists and motorists; ease traffic congestion by way of a reduction in motorized vehicles; reduce the carbon footprint of the city and promote healthy lifestyles for all age groups.”

The application notes that “12 percent of individuals that live and work in the city walk to work which is well above the state average of less than four percent.”

The plan would examine the city’s streets “to assess their ability to accommodate non-motorized traffic.” The total amount of funds requested is $2,125,000.

According to the application, $500,000 of the total would be utilized for property acquisition for a new parking garage with an additional $1,500,000 for preliminary and final design.

Accompanied by letters of support from U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, U.S. Senator Pat Toomey and WCCBI’s Executive Director and CEO Jim Decker, the application notes that, if awarded, “the city is in a position to move forward quickly,” wrapping up final design by January 2021.