Monessen intends to eliminate blight by obtaining properties
By Rick Bruni Jr.
Published: Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013, 7:22 a.m.
Monessen city officials have been performing the legwork for the Downtown Redevelopment Project.
Soon, the physical work will begin.
City Administrator John Harhai spent much of city council's work session Monday listing steps he and Mayor Mary Jo Smith have taken to secure money and government support for the project.
In December, Harhai and Smith – along with developers R. Randy Lee and George Christo and two city consultants – met with three state agencies in Harrisburg.
Their goal: to secure government money – some of it managed by private companies – to aid in the rehabilitation of a number of buildings, including the old municipal building.
“They were very receptive. I think we were surprised at the response we got and some of the suggestions they made,” Smith said. “It wasn't just, ‘Hey can we have money?' Their key (prerequisite) is sustainability, which is ours as well. We want to make Monessen stay alive and grow.”
Harhai said the city officials will “fine tune” everything by February to see where their plans fit into the available programs or grants.
Harhai said he recently submitted a proposal to the Westmoreland County Commissioners involving more than 260 city properties. The end goal is for Monessen to acquire those properties from absentee owners who “flip” them for profit and stick the city with unpaid taxes and either maintenance or demolition costs.
Harhai used an example of a house on Knox Avenue that continued to be “flipped” over the Internet, noting a Maryland man misrepresented himself as the house's owner to a Delaware woman while using an old photo of the structure from the 1970s.
After the woman sent him a check to buy the property, the Maryland man proceeded to purchase the house from the actual owner. Harhai said the house, which had two previous out-of-town owners, was on the demolition list for June.
“When she came here, she stood in front of the house and cried,” Harhai said.
“That is an extreme example, but a lot of properties are more than halfway toward that scenario.”
Smith said the commissioners are having the proposal examined legally. If approved, the city could buy up the properties for as little as $1 per house, Harhai said.
Smith claimed the potential bulk acquisition could be a win-win situation.
“The city takes it off the county's books, and the county waves the administrative fees,” she said. “You'll get a developer to come in and bid on, say, 10 houses and he can rehab five or six and tear the other ones down at his expense. … Right now, all the residents who do take care of their houses are paying these peoples' expenses.”
If things go as planned, residents can expect to see tangible changes begin by spring.
“We've been busy. Getting the foundation takes so much time and you have to talk to so many people to get that base,” Harhai said.
“We're in a good position in securing the monies. We're about a month or two away, and I think you're going to see things really start to break out in May.”
Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 724-684-2635.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.