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November 16, 2012

Council confirms three for Warren DDA board

By Brian Louwers
C & G Staff Writer

WARREN — The city council has approved Mayor Jim Fouts’ three picks for the Downtown Development Authority Board of Directors, including two names known well in local business circles and one very familiar in Warren politics.

Council members met Nov. 13 and unanimously approved the appointments of restaurateur Joseph Vicari, founder and CEO of the Warren-based Andiamo Restaurant Group, and Hank Riberas, a real estate investor, developer and consultant with 30 years of experience.

They’ll replace Charles Earl Jr. and David Spencer respectively, who recently stepped down.

“It’s almost like the dynamic duo, really, of Warren,” Council President Cecil St. Pierre said of the appointments of Vicari and Riberas. “These people know what it takes in order to market and move forward.”

Neither Vicari nor Riberas addressed the council as their appointments were formally confirmed.

The council also voted 6-1 to approve the mayor’s tabled request to appoint former Warren City Council member Mike Wiecek to the board.

Wiecek served on the council for 12 years before he left under term limits in 2007. He has served on the Warren Planning Commission more recently but said Nov. 14 that he would resign that post to take the new appointment on the DDA.

Citing a long list of complaints with the DDA and its leadership under current Chairman Lloyd Brown, Fouts first asked the council to approve Wiecek’s appointment in early October. The appointment was tabled, however, and Fouts went on to level concerns ranging from a 2002 real estate purchase, to design flaws at City Hall, to a lack of investment process, when the DDA board met at City Hall Oct. 17.

A meeting for early November was canceled because of vacancies on the board created by the departures of Earl, Spencer and Jon Green.

Fouts also recently called for Brown’s resignation, but the mayor said he had not received it, as of Nov. 14.

“Vicari is extremely busy. He’s doing this as a favor, out of public service. He’s a class act, and Riberas is a class act,” Fouts said. “Those are two top businessmen.

“There’s been no movement in the DDA since I’ve been mayor. Now it’s time for a change.”

Both Wiecek and Fouts vehemently opposed the DDA’s massive plans to invest in the Civic Center 10 years ago. The plans, once billed as a chance to create Warren’s “new downtown” before the economy took a slide, culminated in the construction of City Hall at a cost of more than $62 million.

Plans to solicit commercial development on the vacant 17 acres of land around the new city offices failed to materialize.

Fouts said the DDA, which “captures” tax dollars from businesses in the district, is on the hook for bonded indebtedness with interest totaling $94.5 million through 2029.

After his appointment, Wiecek echoed the mayor’s concerns and said he’d seek support among the new-look DDA board’s members to oust Brown.

“Some of the things they did in the past are very disgusting and need to be corrected,” Wiecek said. “In trying times, they’ve accomplished nothing.”

Council member Keith Sadowski cast the lone vote against Wiecek’s appointment.

Brown had not responded to a request for comment at press time but said previously that he intended to continue serving on the board as he has for the last 16 years.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Brian Louwers at brianlouwers@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1089.