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Former Comcast building in New Kensington reopens as Come In Unity Center community incubator

| Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
Nick Mitrakos | For Trib Total Media
From left, Rich Hanna, Brian Uhler and Joe Hanna stand outside the former Comcast building at the corner of Ninth Street and Constitution Boulevard in New Kensington on Aug. 1, 2014. The Hannas have owned the building since 2007 and recently began working with Uhler to try to attract community groups and nonprofits to use it as a cooperative work space.
Nick Mitrakos | For Trib Total Media
Brian Uhler, Joe Hanna and Rich Hanna (from rear) stand in the second-floor hallway of the former Comcast building at the corner of Ninth Street and Constitution Boulevard in New Kensington on Aug. 1, 2014. The Hannas have owned the building since 2007 and recently began working with Uhler to try to attract community groups and nonprofits to use it as a cooperative work space.
Nick Mitrakos | For Trib Total Media
From left, Brian Uhler, Joe Hanna and Rich Hanna stand outside the former Comcast building at the corner of Ninth Street and Constitution Boulevard in New Kensington on Aug. 1, 2014. The Hannas have owned the building since 2007 and recently began working with Uhler to try to attract community groups and nonprofits to use it as a cooperative work space.
Nick Mitrakos | For Trib Total Media
The former Comcast building at Ninth Street and Constitution Boulevard in New Kensington offers a variety of ammenities for small businesses and organizations, including sound and video studios, one of which is shown here on Aug. 1, 2014. The owners, Joe and Rich Hanna, and their community liaison, Brian Uhler, are trying to attract small groups interested in using the building as a cooperative workspace.

Brian Uhler sees a lot of potential in not just the former Comcast building in New Kensington, but in the city itself.

He wants to use the Constitution Boulevard building as meeting and office space for small nonprofits and other community groups that don't have a home to call their own.

Not only could his proposed Come In Unity Center help to fill a large commercial building that hasn't been fully utilized since the cable provider vacated it in 2004, but he believes the ideas exchanged in the center could be a catalyst to citywide improvement.

The Upper Burrell resident is acting as a community liaison for Joe and Rich Hanna, whose Hanna Brothers Ventures bought the property from Comcast in 2007.

Rich Hanna of Penn Hills said he and his brother initially thought they could use the space for a side business, but they weren't able to devote time away from their day jobs.

They began using the building as a business incubator, renting individual offices to startup entrepreneurs, businesses that were expanding into the area and others who needed limited office space.

“We provided the essentials to getting started,” Hanna said. “You've got a business address, key card access, surveillance, parking, electric, air conditioning, heat. A number of things like that. We make it simple.”

He said they've had a variety of tenants, expanding a bit each year largely through word of mouth.

“All of a sudden, about a year ago, four people who were in there all left around the same time,” he said.

That led them to reconsider the building's use.

“It's kind of like an open canvas,” he said. “There are a million options.”

Uhler, who was a prior tenant, contacted the Hannas recently and proposed his idea for a “community incubator,” taking the Hannas' idea of a co-working space but applying it to community groups rather than businesses.

Uhler believes the building's location is ideal. At the corner of Ninth Street and Constitution Boulevard, it's a central location convenient to New Kensington's downtown business district, city-owned parking lots and the YMCA.

He'd like to see the many disparate community service organizations and church-based social initiatives become more connected and streamlined in their approach to serving New Kensington.

“We need to look for ways to connect,” Uhler said. “Like strands of twine — the more you put together, the stronger you grow.”

“We were trying to create this space, somewhere you can collaborate,” Hanna said. “Something like a think tank where like minds can network.”

The building's two floors have conference rooms that could be rented for meetings for as little as $35.

More than a dozen small offices each can be leased for $110 per month and would provide utilities, a phone line, Internet and a place to receive mail.

The building features recording studios that groups could use to produce an array of media. Hanna said there also is plenty of warehouse space and an available storefront.

“The only restriction is our imagination,” Uhler said.

As the president of the New Kensington Area Chamber of Commerce, Uhler is working to develop a web-based platform he's calling the Alle-Kiski Alliance. It would offer event calendars, business listings, radio and video broadcasts and social media.

He'd like to see more groups take advantage of technology to connect virtually as well as physically.

Uhler believes the region's people, businesses, infrastructure and community groups make it ripe for revitalization as long as people keep a positive attitude and put forth the effort.

“We have so much going here that has nothing to do with money,” he said. “I'm big on grass roots. There's a lot of things we as individuals can do.”

Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or lhayes@tribweb.com.

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