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Pittsburgh review panel won't let Route 28 church be torn down

The city Historic Review Commission's decision on Wednesday denying permission to tear down the former St. Nicholas Church along Route 28 is being viewed as a victory by the North Side group seeking to buy it and turn it into a museum honoring immigration history.

But Mark Fatla, executive director of the Northside Leadership Conference, thinks the panel's decision also will give the building's current owners -- St. Nicholas parish in Millvale -- what they want.

"We've made an offer to buy the building from the parish for $1," Fatla said. "If this works out, we'll be able to preserve a historically important building and create something significant for the community. And the parish will be relieved of the burden of maintaining a structure it no longer needs or wants or having to pay to tear it down."

St. Nicholas parish administrator, the Rev. Daniel Whalen, said insurance, taxes and upkeep for the North Side building costs about $1,800 a month, which is nearly 18 percent of the 225-member parish's monthly collection.

"We wanted to tear the building down to stop the financial bleeding caused by having to maintain it," Whalen said. "So if we can sell it to the folks who want to turn it into a museum, I guess we can also consider it a win, especially since we won't have to come up with the $300,000 it would cost for demolition."

The parish voted to close the church in 2000 and sell the site to PennDOT, which was planning the major reconstruction of Route 28 that is under way.

A splinter group of parishioners and preservationists obtained local historic designation for the building a year later, which blocked the sale and forced PennDOT to alter its plans.

The North Side parish merged with St. Nicholas in Millvale in 1994.

Sarah Quinn, the city's historic preservation planner, said the commission's unanimous decision took into account• that an offer has been made to buy the building, which would remove the economic hardship being sought.

The Diocese of Pittsburgh represented the parish's interests before the Historic Review Commission.

Fatla said the purchase offer is contingent on a geological survey to determine the stability of the building and the adjacent hillside.

"But even if the survey indicates that our project will cost significantly more than we are willing or able to take on, the parish will be no worse off," he said. "They can go back and ask to tear it down, which we would not oppose."

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