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Renovation of former West Newton tavern nearly complete

Joe Napsha
| Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Fran Driscoll (left), owner of Belle Construction Co. of White Oak, and his brother, Lou Driscoll, nail the new storefront onto the façade of the former Riverside Lounge at 101 S. Water St., West Newton. The building is being renovated by The Progress Fund, a Greensburg-based community development financing agency that expects to hold an open house for prospective tenants on Oct. 28, 2013.
Joe Napsha | The Times-Sun
Fran Driscoll (left), owner of Belle Construction Co. of White Oak, and his brother, Lou Driscoll, nail the new storefront onto the façade of the former Riverside Lounge at 101 S. Water St., West Newton. The building is being renovated by The Progress Fund, a Greensburg-based community development financing agency that expects to hold an open house for prospective tenants on Oct. 28, 2013.

The renovations to the former Riverside Lounge in West Newton will be on full display Oct. 28 to show the public and entrepreneurs the potential for the once-vacant building to become a thriving business, possibly a restaurant, retail site or an office in the trailside town.

The Progress Fund, a Greensburg-based financing agency that owns the property at 101 S. Water St., is looking for entrepreneurs who are interested in renting the 2,500-square foot first floor, or buying the entire 5,000-square-foot two-story building and the one-half-acre parcel on which it sits along the east bank of the Youghiogheny River.

“We want to find the right tenant for the building and the town. We want it to be an attraction, or destination,” said William Prince, coordinator of the Progress Fund's Trail Town Program.

The Progress Fund intends to mix information about the business prospects for the building with refreshments during the open house from 4 to 7 p.m. Oct. 28. Prospective entrepreneurs, local government officials and community leaders are being invited to the open house, Prince said.

“We will look into the Pittsburgh market for potential entrepreneurs,” Prince said. Businesses with both local and statewide ties have expressed interest in the building, in large part because of the Great Allegheny Passage that runs through West Newton on the west bank of the Youghiogheny River, Prince said. Some of the businesses are interested in the site as a second location, he said. Most of the interest has come from businesses wanting to open a restaurant and tavern, but some of those interested are seeking office space, Prince said.

“We want to cater to both the trail-town visitors and the local population,” Prince said.

Downtown West Newton Inc., a nonprofit community development organization, is hoping the property will attract a medium-priced sit-down restaurant, said Aaron Nelson, president of Downtown West Newton.

The property also is being marketed through the Downtown West Newton real estate development page on its website, Prince said.

Once the former Riverside Lounge is occupied, “that will help stimulate properties on that side of Main Street,” Nelson said.

For anyone wanting to occupy the building, The Progress Fund has a set a price of $1,200 a month plus utilities for anyone renting the entire first floor, and $650 a month plus utilities for renting one-half of the first floor. The Progress Fund, which lends money to business, will make financing available, he said.

“The Progress Fund plans to rent it out, but eventually, we want to sell it. We don't want to be the long-term owner of the building,” Prince said.


Prince expects the second phase of renovations to the building to be completed by mid-October, Prince said.

“We're getting close,” Prince said last week as he reviewed the renovations being done by Bella Construction Co. of White Oak.

The interior of the building has been gutted to the bare walls and the renovations over the past 15 months have left the 91-year-old building a “vanilla box” that is ready to be leased.

“It's a blank slate. It's a huge transformation,” from its previous life as a tavern, Prince said.

Two recessed entrances have been created so that the building can be leased to one tenant filling the entire 2,500 square-foot first floor, or two tenants splitting the first floor, Prince said. The interior of the former tavern on South Water Street has been gutted and will remain bare so that the space can be remodeled to suit the needs of a tenant, Prince said.

Not only have the walls been stripped of the tavern's furnishings, but the kitchen and bathroom were removed as well. Those amenities can be placed where the tenant wants them, Prince said.

Bella Construction has built a new white signboard after removing the old tavern facade and created an 18-window enclosed porch in the rear building, giving those inside an unobstructed view of the Youghiogheny River. A dilapidated second-floor porch was removed in favor of the new back porch.

A new roof was installed in the first phase of the renovations and severe water damage was repaired from leaks in the old roof. Prince said the biggest challenge was repairing the damage to the masonry and floors from the leaking roof. Part of the first floor's tin ceiling had to be removed, Prince said.

Because the sidewalk and raised entrances make it impossible to make the front doors handicapped-accessible, Prince said handicap accessibility will be achieved by creating a side door in the brick wall.

The interior renovations are being limited to the first floor because of budgetary constraints, Prince said. The Progress Fund will leave the second floor, which is accessible through a door in the middle of the entryway, open for storage. There are enough other second floors of buildings available for rental in downtown West Newton, Prince said.

South Water Street LLC., which the Progress Fund formed to buy the property, used some of a Richard King Mellon Foundation grant of more than $1 million to buy the property.

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

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