WARREN, Ohio (WKBN) — It was a snowy weekend to take a trip to Warren, but a few students from New York City did just that. They’re part of an urban design class at The New School in New York, looking to revitalize a theater and spark more ideas to improve downtown Warren.
This is now the second year that those urban design students have come from New York to Warren. They’re studying how to make the urban core of Warren whole again, and it’s being organized by an urban planning graduate who is proving you can go home again.
“Warren has a certain charm, and people from warren don’t realize the asset that we have,” said student Melissa Holmes.
Holmes was born and raised in Warren. After getting her master’s degree in Urban Policy at the New School in New York, she read old urban planning documents that mentioned the Robins Theater as a building needing to be restored.
“In a casual conversation with my boyfriend over dinner, he told me that his family owned it. And I thought that he was joking,” Holmes explained.
That was the start of the Robins Project; trying to reuse the 1,200-seat theatre on East Market Street that was home to movies and stage shows until it closed in 1974. This weekend, students from the New School and from Kent State traded ideas with community members about what downtown Warren needs.
“What Warren is, is opportunity. We have so much opportunity in this town, and people from New York, for example, can see that,” said Holmes.
“I think it’s a really good place to especially practice things I’ve learned in school, and really use this city as a lab, because everyone wants to work with one another. There is so much room for collaboration here,” added Cody Herrmann of the Parsons New School of design.
Herrmann planned last year’s Commons Fest in Courthouse Square. They’re looking to do more events like it, since restoring the Robins Theatre could take the next decade to complete.
“It doesn’t mean we can’t do anything. It means we’re going to take the next 10 years and do small projects. We’re going to slowly move into the theater. We’re going to slowly move into the Garden District. And we’re going to make the whole urban core an integral city, a strong city,” said Holmes.
The students involved in the Robins Project said that restoring the theatre could cost about $14 million. They’re looking to fund it with historic tax credits, fund-raising and through investors, depending on what the restored building ends up being.
Their ideas are running anywhere from an event hall to a restaurant to even a brewery; all sorts of possibilities for the space.