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Progress slow on fire-damaged portion of Heights Plaza in Harrison

| Tuesday, March 5, 2013, 12:16 a.m.
Eric Felack, Valley News Dispatch
Construction workers remove damaged wood from the facade of the Heights Plaza on Monday morning, March 4, 2013, next to the Dollar Bank, which is open for business despite the construction. Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch

Restoration work has progressed slowly in the nearly three months since a fire damaged a portion of Heights Plaza in Harrison.

The burnt facade in a long stretch between Dunham's Sports and the UPMC Multi-specialty medical offices remains, and a maze of chain link fencing sits in front of that section of the building. Vehicle access is blocked from Union Avenue.

There is no estimation on when work will be completed, said Don Schleicher, an adjuster with Castle Claims Service, which is handling the insurance claim for the plaza.

“Because of the immense scope — there's more than 200,000 square feet affected — it is a long and tedious process to arrive at what needs to be done in each of the spaces,” he said. “Certainly, we're looking at months.”

The Dec. 17 blaze caused an estimated $10 million in damage.

Flames were contained mainly to the facade, but all the businesses had at least some smoke damage.

The most heavily damaged businesses, including Harrison's Bar and Grille, Drumz N More music shop, Family Christian Stores and the UPMC offices, remain closed.

Other businesses such as J&S Pizza, Kellie's Nails, Luna Vision, Dunham's, and two banks reopened shortly after the fire.

Large signs let customers know some of the businesses are open, but the look of the plaza has affected business, some owners say.

“We don't get any walk-in traffic,” said Tammy Redmond, office manager of Luna Vision, which opened about two weeks after the fire. “It's depressing driving in every morning. Hopefully with spring will come restoration.”

On Monday, a crew with Disaster Restoration Services, the main contractor for the project, worked to remove charred material from the roof near the Dollar Bank. And signs from Pittsburgh contractor Massaro Corp. are posted on the boarded-up windows of the UPMC facility.

A UPMC spokeswoman did not return calls seeking comment.

John Botti, owner of DRS' Monroeville location, which is overseeing the work, could not be reached for comment.

No one from Indigo Management or Wild Blue Management, which owns the plaza, returned calls.

“I wish they'd hurry up,” said Vic Quinio, owner of Quinio's Barber Shop, located next to Dunham's. “People can't drive through anymore. It's less exposure.”

Joe Marino, Harrison's zoning officer, said he hasn't received any complaints from business owners regarding safety or other issues.

“I haven't been called in to inspect anything,” he said of progress on repairs.

Several business owners said they're working with the contractor to schedule ceiling replacement and other renovations that will require them to close for a short time.

The stores' individual insurance companies are responsible for repairs beyond what was original when they moved in, Schleicher said. The plaza's insurance covers repairs to anything that has to be removed to access common areas, he added.

Schleicher said the restoration needs to be completed “logically.”

“You can't clean until burned debris is removed, or the odor just stays there,” he said, “and the shell of the building has to be made whole where it is damaged before you can do anything with the interior of it.”

He added the final step will be to remove and replace the facade on the entire length of the building.

Family Christian Stores manager Joel Varga said they're using the closure as an opportunity to redesign and update the store.

“It's gone very well,” Varga said of the restoration. “We've had very good cooperation.”

They're hoping to open on March 21 in time for Palm Sunday and the Easter holiday, Varga said.

“It's shaping up, and we're very excited,” he said.

A recorded message on the answering machine at Drums N More tells customers the store is closed because of the fire but is being renovated and they hope to reopen soon.

Callers are encouraged to leave a message, but calls to the store seeking comment were not returned.

Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4702 or

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