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South Fayette considers option for stalled civic center project

| Wednesday, July 30, 2014, 9:01 p.m.
Justin Merriman | Trib Total Media
The planned South Fayette Township Civic Center was expected to contain administrative offices, the police department, the library, a community center and a senior citizens’ center at 100 Hickory Grade Road.

South Fayette spent $5 million to buy the former Star City Cinema in 2009, with the intention to turn it into a hub of civic activity in the township.

The planned South Fayette Township Civic Center was expected to contain administrative offices, the police department, the library, a community center and a senior citizens' center at 100 Hickory Grade Road.

Five years later, the civic center does not exist but the millions of dollars in debt from the bond used to buy the building does, officials said.“We're trying to find the best solution to a difficult issue,” said Joseph Horowitz, president of the board of commissioners.

He has said that when the current board members took office, there was no funding plan in place to convert the former movie multiplex into a civic center, or pay for its operations.

Officials have said that a decision will be made in soon on the township's options. Commissioners can move forward with the civic center project, demolish the theater and replace it with something other than a civic center, lease part or all of the building or sell the whole thing, said Ryan Eggleston, township manager.

South Fayette staff will analyze the matter and “try to get something at a point where the board can consider, and try to see where things go from there,” Eggleston said.

The township took out a 25-year general obligation bond in 2009 for $8.04 million to cover the acquisition of the Star City property, fund a capitalized interest account and refinance a general obligation note, Eggleston said.

The amount owed on the bonds now is about $7 million.

The township's 6,257-square-foot municipal building on Millers Run Road was constructed in 1968 and contains the administration's offices, the police department, the senior citizens' center and the library.

“As the township continues to expand, our need for space will grow with that from an administrative and personnel level,” Eggleston said.

South Fayette's population was 9,370 in 1970, and 14,416 in 2010, census figures show.

The township purchased the 15-acre former theater parcel on Hickory Grade Road from Shelby Corp. for $5 million. It has been vacant since 2008.

In 2010, the property was subdivided, with about an acre at the front being sold to Washington Financial Bank for a planned branch. In 2012, 2.6 acres beside the former theater were sold for $1.65 million to Children's Hospital, which expects its $24 million Children's South outpatient facility to open Sept. 29.

UPMC agreed to donate $100,000 to the township's planned redevelopment of the former cinema as a civic center.

There has been a lot of interest from developers in the 80,000-square-foot building, but no formal offers, Eggleston said.

There also is the issue of the park-and-ride lot at the site.

Based on a lease agreement that started July 1, 2010, Port Authority of Allegheny County has been paying South Fayette $15,000 a year to use 125 parking spaces at the old theater site for a commuter lot, Port Authority spokesman Jim Ritchie said. The average daily use is 68 cars, he said.

No decision has been made on the park-and-ride lot, Eggleston said.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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