Hays Mansion's fate still in limbo
Munhall council told the Hays family on Wednesday night it must place $26,000-$30,000 in escrow before council would rescind the current condemnation order on the Hays Mansion, located off Whitaker Way.
“If we would decide to take this building off the demolition list this year, that means we would probably lose our block grant money to tear this down,” council president Joe Ballas said.
He said if the Hays family's efforts fizzle out or they don't have enough money to restore the mansion, council would use the escrow money to demolish the home. Ballas said a housing development is at a standstill because people are not willing to buy property because of the state of the mansion.
The $26,000 includes the Community Development Block Grant funds and cost of paperwork.
“We can lose the money and all we want is to protect the taxpayers of the borough,” Councilman Dan Lloyd said.
Hays relative Jim Deibel said the family already must pay $30,000 in back taxes to purchase the mansion.
Munhall Solicitor Greg Evashavik said a performance bond is an option that would cost the Hays family less.
“It would guarantee if you don't complete the project, that bond amount would be available for this borough,” he said. “I don't know if you can get it under these circumstances.”
Hays family members were hoping enough work had been done to the mansion in recent months so that council would lift the condemnation and take it off the demolition list for later this year.
“We've made progress toward resolving all of the issues that made you condemn the house in the first place,” attorney Angelo Quaranta said.
He said the family's foundation has the mansion under a purchase agreement with the mansion's owner, Riverbend LLC founder Mark Draper of Rockville, Md. Quaranta said another arrangement would enable the family's foundation to obtain 17½ acres on the hillside adjacent to the Hays Mansion from U.S. Steel.
Deibel said the mansion could be used as a bed and breakfast or arboretum.
He said the condemnation order limits the Hays family members and others willing to donate to restore the mansion. Deibel said he's not sure the family can come up with the money to put in escrow.
Councilman Bernie Shields said there are no guarantees contributions will be made if the order is lifted.
Attorney Greg Barnes represented Steve Chupinka, owner of the housing development near the Hays Mansion.
“For years, this has affected development badly,” he said. “What they're presenting is a great idea. It's full of uncertainties though.”
Borough manager Matt Galla estimated that August would be the latest council could wait to lift the condemnation and take the mansion off the demolition list, but said he will verify that with Steel Valley Council of Governments.
Preservation Pennsylvania technical field services representative Erin Hammerstedt and local developer Margaret Burrows pledged their help to the Hays family to consider a performance bond or escrow the money.
The Hays Mansion dates back to 1832 and its basement was a safe haven for slaves along the Underground Railroad.
Stacy Lee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1970, or firstname.lastname@example.org.