I recently received an email reply from the Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development regarding the review underway of the $500,000 grant for the Allegheny Center for the Arts building. Basically, it was stated that completion of the review has been delayed because the department is looking at much more than just the funds. City manager Jim Nelles also confirmed in the last city council meeting that, "DCED has expanded the investigation," and rightfully so, now knowing all that went awry within Gro-Warren under the leadership of Mark Phillips.
Recently I attended a Conference Center Authority meeting. The meeting lasted a whole 5 minutes before they went into executive session. The meeting agenda was mostly about financial troubles, unable to pay bills, etc. This newspaper also reported that the authority was on borrowed time, given an extension of 30 days to secure financing for the project. Those 30 days are about up and there is no funding in sight, which means the loss of a $5 million+ grant.
Far worse, during the Streetscape project, Jim Nelles, Mark Phillips and Gro-Warren diverted over $197,000 for electrical infrastructure for the sole purpose of the conference center. The loss of the conference center project means Nelles, Phillips and Gro-Warren wasted $197,000.
I would venture to guess that between actual costs including the electrical work and consulting reports added to the cost of time and effort of city employees, etc., that the conference center tab is nearing $400,000.
Jim Nelles has resigned and will be leaving, and in due time Mark Phillips will also leave office.
Their departures will mark nearly three-quarters of a decade of "government for special interests trampling government for the people.
This "special interest" chapter in the history of our city government has been a costly lesson, one that could have ruined our city's reputation with the state and end precious state funding of important projects. Thankfully, I believe that the state is clear on the fact that there were only a couple of bad apples in the bushel and they have been removed before spoiling it all.
While we wait for DCED's review, one that I believe will be highly critical of Gro-Warren's conduct, we (city council & Main Street) continue to work to resolve the extensive damage done to the ACA project. Within short time, we hope to make a highly positive announcement concerning forward movement.
Dan Ristau, Vice President