Our Towns

Warren Directs Attention to Commercial Demolition

WARREN, Ohio – For years, 15 by Mayor Doug Franklin’s count, the Garden Apartments on the north side of this city sat empty. Not only was the building an eyesore, it was a magnet for the trade in illegal drugs and other crimes.

Tuesday morning, the demolition of Garden Apartments began as the city expanded its efforts to tear down derelict properties and remediate blight by tearing down vacant commercial structures.

Last year, the Franklin Administration began its “Code Enforcement Blitz” program. In the first round of issuing citations, 38 were mailed out with 90% of the issues eventually being addressed.

Now, the program has been expanded to address the many vacant commercial properties throughout the city.

“We’re taking down big structures, finally,” Franklin said. “We’re able to get some of these large apartment buildings down. We’re happy to try it out here and we hope to do more.”

Discussions about razing the apartment building began about two years ago, according to 1st Ward Councilman Larry Larson. Vacant some 15 years, the building was condemned after the owner, who lives in California, let the building fall into disrepair.

“During that time, we boarded it up and boarded it up and boarded it up,” Larson said. “Every time we did, [trespassers would] tear the boards off and get inside. I don’t know why they wanted to get in there, but they did.”

Neighbors complained – often – about the open vacant buildings, including the apartment building. Just north of the complex is the former St. Joseph Warren Hospital, closed a decade ago. Two apartment buildings between the hospital and Garden Apartments were torn down two years ago, the mayor noted.

For residents, including Larson who’s lived in the neighborhood since the 1950s and in the same house 36 years, watching another empty building come down was a delight.

“I’m tickled pink that it’s coming down today. It’s a cold day, but it’s a warm day for the neighborhood,” he said. “This is just one of the problems we have, but we’re getting it done. What we can afford to go after, we’re going after.”

The building was torn down as part of Code Enforcement Blitz, Franklin said. While the program has focused on single-family residential structures, addressing the issue of Garden Apartments was important for the city.

“[We worked on] this building [because it’s] bordered by residential neighborhoods. This will take a little more time than the traditional board-ups, but it’s part of our overall program,” the mayor said. “When you have to assemble these funds to take properties like this down, it takes more time.”

The demolition cost is about $18,000, he said. Priority Environmental Services in Howland submitted the lowest bid, about $10,000 below the next highest bid. Using Priority, Franklin said, was a unique opportunity because the company burns some of the debris rather than send all of it to a landfill.

“The demolition material is sorted and the safe, vegetative material is burned at a high temperature in a thermal destruction unit, which gets to about 3,000 degrees at its hottest,” co-owner Dante Massacci said. “We take that material and mass reduce it from 100 tons to 2.5 tons of ash, which we sift. The char is reused in dirt to enhance the pH balance. It’s a green operation from start to finish.”

Priority Excavation is the only company in Ohio that the Environmental Protection Agency has certified to dispose of such building debris, mostly wood, that way. It took Priority 3½ years to get the certification, Massacci said. The remainder – such as carpet, insulation and glass – is sent to a landfill.

Priority Excavation has razed other structures within Warren and will continue its efforts to eliminate blight in Warren, the co-owner said.

“Taking these buildings down is key. With this heroin epidemic we have, a lot of buildings like this are havens for those people. Let’s get rid of them and get those people out of here,” he said.

As part of the effort with Code Enforcement Blitz, which has involved a score of buildings so far, the city is focusing on tearing down more commercial buildings.

“The state gives you money to take residential buildings, but commercial ones tend to stay up,” Larson said. “We’re finding a way to take those down.”

Among the demolished commercial structures are a Hardee’s restaurant and empty storefronts on Parkman Road, with more to come this year.

“We are working with Priority Excavation to look at some other properties and with our other contractors to consider even more,” Franklin said. “We welcome more of this and know that it’s the tip of the iceberg. It’s a great way to start the new year and we’re pleased to accommodate these neighbors.”

Pictured: Warren Councilman Larry Larson stands in front of the former Garden Apartments.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.