Munhall council takes Hays Mansion off condemned list
By Michael DiVittorio
Published: Thursday, June 20, 2013, 4:41 a.m.
Munhall council has removed the Hays Mansion from the list of condemned properties, saving it from demolition.
The vote was 5-2 at Wednesday night's meeting. Councilors Harvey Inglis, Rich Votedian, Bernie Shields, vice president Rob Falce and Dana Ditillo favored saving the historic mansion. Council president Joe Ballas and Councilman Dan Lloyd did not.
“We've asked for a plan, which we've never gotten,” Lloyd said. “We've asked people representing the Abraham Hays Foundation to present us with an agreement of sale that shows us that we're actually dealing with the ownership party of the mansion. That document has not been produced.
“I know you people mean well, and I support historic preservation — I donated to the Abraham Hays Foundation — but I personally don't see a reason to suspend the rules that protect the money that the taxpayers are going to lose.”
The foundation was started by the Hays family to carry on its heritage and restore the mansion.
“I think you have to save the building,” Shields said. “I don't know if it's the oldest building in the borough, but it probably is. Now there's a chance maybe to save it, and maybe it's something we should look at.”
Last November, councilors said the Hays Mansion was condemned because its owner, Riverbend Mansion LLC founder Mark Draper of Rockville, Md., had for years promised to restore it, but has not done so, and that it is interfering with another development.
Ballas said he voted not to rescind the condemned status for those reasons.
Wednesday's vote took place after foundation members pled their case for keeping the mansion.
“We didn't want to purchase the property while it's still condemned,” foundation spokesman Freeman Bartek said.
He said the Hays family has a memorandum of agreement with Draper.
The foundation is reaching out to a lender in the Steel Valley area to buy the property and cover $30,000 in tax debt, Bartek said.
He emphasized that the mansion is eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places, and that the foundation has found 26 available grant and funding programs to help restore the mansion.
“Volunteer efforts in the early stages of restoration will also save thousands upon thousands of dollars,” Bartek said. “Considering all this, overall, this is absolutely possible.”
Willie Hays told council about improvements that have been made in the past few months.
“The mansion is looking better now than it has in many years, and its appearance continues to gradually improve,” Hays said.
The roof over the basement steps has been replaced and painted. The lattice work on the side porch has been repaired, and all of the woodwork on the side porch has been painted. The garage, kitchen porch and windows on the first floor also have been painted.
He said more extensive and expensive restoration still is necessary.
Bartek said it will take a minimum of two to three years to complete, and vowed to prove to borough officials that they made the right call.
“I'm going to make sure this keeps moving forward.” he said.
Riverboat captain Abraham Hays built the mansion in 1832 to replace his flooded home, according to documents from the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation. It served as a station on the Underground Railroad. Slaves traveled through a tunnel from the Monongahela River to the home's basement.
Fugitive slaves were transported to the area by Hays riverboat captains during coal mining operations on the Mississippi River.
More information is available online at www.abrahamhaysfoundation.org.
Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1965, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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