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Phase 2 begins at former Riverside Lounge in West Newton

| Wednesday, June 19, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
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This is an architect's rendering of how the property formerly known as the Riverside Lounge will look when its renovation is complete. The Progress Fund hopes to have the building ready for leasing in the fall of 2013.

The second phase of renovations to the former Riverside Lounge along South Water Street in West Newton should begin this week, with extensive renovations planned for the interior of the two-story brick building to make it suitable for leasing this fall, the Greensburg-based nonprofit owner said.

The Progress Fund, the Greensburg-based community development lender that bought the former tavern at 101 S. Water St., signed a remodeling contract with Bella Construction Company of White Oak on Monday and work will be under way this week, said William Prince, coordinator of the Progress Fund's Trail Town Program. Prince said he met with the contractor and the project architect, Landmark Design Associates Architects of Pittsburgh, this week to discuss the job.

“That building is a key component of development on that (east) side of the river,” said Aaron Nelson, president of Downtown West Newton Inc., a nonprofit community development organization.

“It's going to spark more interest on Main Street,” Nelson said, adding that the recent sidewalk improvements on Main Street should help generate more interest in downtown businesses.

Renovating the former Riverside Lounge also will complement the development of Simeral Square, a small park adjacent to the West Newton Bridge and overlooking the Youghiogheny River. The park, built on the site of an abandoned service station and dilapidated building, officially opened June 1.

The first phase of the former Riverside Lounge renovations – replacing the rubber roof and repairing severe water damage from a leaking roof – was completed this spring and the second phase will involve both interior and exterior renovations to the building, Prince said. New windows, a new storefront and preliminary electric work will be done to bring the first floor up to code, Prince said.

The deck on the rear of the building will be demolished and only rebuilt on the first floor. The restrooms, which had been in the front of the building, will not be rebuilt so that a prospective tenant will be able to place them where they want, Prince said.

“The tenant will have a ‘vanilla box' to work with,” when the renovations are completed this fall, Prince said.

The interior renovations will be limited to the first floor, under this contract, Prince said. The second floor, which is accessible from a door in the center of the building and at one time had apartments, will not be renovated at this time, Prince said.

Although the building adjacent to the West Newton Bridge remains a work in progress, the Progress Fund has received some inquiries from potential tenants with their sights set on using the building for a restaurant, office space or retail and possibly lodging, Prince said.

The first-floor room could house one or two tenants. It's perfect for a restaurant or a hunting and fishing shop, said David Kahley, president of the Progress Fund.

“We will be the other book end entrance into West Newton,” Kahley said, noting the development of The Trailside restaurant along West Main Street, just over the West Newton Bridge.

“We want to entice people to cross the (Youghiogheny) river,” into downtown West Newton, he added.

The Progress Fund acquired the 5,000-square-foot building and one-half acre parcel in March 2012 from Jesse Long of Buena Vista for $170,000. The Progress Fund created a limited liability company, South Water Street LLC., to buy the property, using part of a more than $1 million grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation to acquire the parcel, which stretches to the riverfront.

Kahley declined to comment on the amount of money that the Progress Fund has invested in the renovations or how much it anticipates it will invest in the second phase. The renovations cost a “sizable amount” of money, but is well within the normal range for renovations in the Pittsburgh area, Kahley said.

“It's not cheap, but we are being cautious about what we spend. This has not been a cheap investment,” Kahley added.

Kahley and Prince said they believe that the renovation of the former Riverside Lounge could become a centerpiece of redevelopment for downtown West Newton.

One of the problems in spurring economic development in downtown West Newton is a lack of “economic incentive or personal motivation for people to sell their properties,” Kahley said. Some of those properties are languishing in a “no-man's land of ownership” because the owners do not want to put the money into repairs to bring them up to code, Kahley said.

But, with the renovations to the former Riverside Lounge and other trailside developments, the Progress Fund is helping to make the community “a destination point,” Kahley said.

“This is more about West Newton popping,” for development, Kahley said.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at jnapsha@tribweb.com or 724-836-5252.

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