No Private Market? No Problem for Port Authority - The Business Journal

The Western Reserve Port Authority is buying properties “that only government could love,” says its executive director, Anthony Trevena.

And in so doing, it’s positioning them for productive use where more than likely local governments would not.

Case in point:  The port authority is finalizing the language of land purchase agreements with Steward Health, but it already has a potential project for one of the 26 properties included in the $300,000 deal. That building, 1915 Belmont Ave. in Youngstown, has housed a movie theater, a grocery store and a medical supply company. Trevena says the port authority has a project in mind for the property, which most recently was used for storage, and is in the early stages of due diligence.
“We’re having conversations with a group that’s interested in the property,” Trevena says. “We’re very, very optimistic that’s going to work out.”

Trevena, who has been with the port authority since 2015 and became executive director last year, has no illusions about many of the sites WRPA has taken on since it began repurposing properties and working with developers to bring them back into productive use. They include decaying commercial and residential properties – some of which can be rehabilitated while others need to be razed – as well as vacant lots and large tracts of brownfields.
“I guess you could say we’re buying those projects or properties that really only government can love,” Trevena says. “The things we get are the things that the private market is not going after, generally speaking, and then we try to put it in the right hands.” That effort in recent years has led to the revival of hundreds of thousands of square feet of space in Mahoning and Trumbull counties. One Warren building was repurposed as a wine bar, and another provided an expansion opportunity for the Trumbull County Historical Society.

In Youngstown, a handful of buildings along Mahoning Avenue are undergoing renovations, including two to accommodate a local coffee company’s expansion and one with upper level apartments and a lower level that is being brought back to a vanilla-box state for a future end-user. At the same time, brownfield sites in both Mahoning and Trumbull counties – including one of the largest in Ohio – are being readied for future development.
These initiatives grew out of the establishment of the port authority’s economic development division, launched in 2009 to capitalize on the various financing and other capabilities port authorities have in Ohio. Among those is the ability, under the Ohio Revised Code, to directly negotiate with and sell property to individuals without being required to follow the public bid process. WRPA staff looked at what other port authorities do in the economic development arena, says Sarah Lown, public finance manager. Depressed property values in the Mahoning Valley caught their attention and inspired a focus on the real estate market. “We wanted to make sure we positioned ourselves to complement the other economic development agencies and the work they’re doing,” she says.

The Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber was focused on jobs and business attraction and retention and Eastgate Regional Council of Governments was addressing infrastructure, but no one in the local economic development community was focusing on bringing up property values, Lown says. One of the port authority’s early deals, in 2018, involved partnering with Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp., which was looking to acquire a building at 2246 Glenwood Ave. that the Rescue Mission of the Mahoning Valley had put on the market.

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