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Jaison's building to remain vacant

One of the empty buildings in downtown McKeesport will remain so.

By 3-0 vote Monday, McKeesport's Zoning Hearing Board of Adjustment rejected the request of Judah Ministries for a variance to operate a church and recording studio in the former Jaison's department store along Fifth Avenue.

"We're just being led of God," ministry founder the Rev. Michael Yuricha of North Huntingdon Township said. "Where God leads us, we will go. What door He opens, no man can close. What door He closes, no man can open."

That paraphrase of Revelation 3:7 followed the closing of doors in Duquesne as well as McKeesport, where a zoning board meeting was continued from last month.

It came despite the pleas of two officers of Mon-Yough Senior Citizens Friendship Club which sought to sell the building.

"I just don't understand why this is not going through," club president Virginia Pavel said. "That building has stood vacant for over a year."

Referring to an outreach Judah Ministries pledged to young people, club financial secretary Betty Grant said, "We have a lot of violence in McKeesport. If the man could have ... something for the children to do, maybe we wouldn't have the violence we have today."

Board member Dee Connor said a church would mean no new tax revenue for the city when it is spending state funds to upgrade Fifth Avenue.

"It is a major renovation for the town," board member Bill Richards said of the Hometown Streets project. "New gas lines, new sewer lines, everything."

"We can't understand why you want to go on the main corridor when there are so many vacant churches," Connor said.

Yuricha said a precedent for what he sought was set across the street by Kiesell's Soup Kitchen & Chapel.

He also said he didn't find any churches for sale, but found the Jaison's building, more recently the MYSC Friendship Club bingo hall.

"We had a man from New York buy the (Peoples Union) Bank Building and we don't know if he was ever in the city," Richards said. "We hope (the Jaison's building) doesn't end up like that bank building."

Reportedly, the New York couple that owns the vacant eight-story former bank headquarters was in town recently. Since then, computer sheets posted in its windows tout a $5-per-square-foot rental fee.

A plywood board remains over one first-floor broken window of the Peoples Building, as has been the case for several months.

Board Chairman Joseph Como questioned Yuricha on his inability to pin down how many parking spaces he might need, as well as the intention to hold just two hours of worship a week while much of the rest of the week would be occupied with the recording studio.

Yuricha said it was the first time his ministry planned for worship services at a location. He previously operated in Rochester, Beaver County, and the Sheraden section of Pittsburgh.

"We never had a church," Yuricha said. "This is a new venture for us."

He also said other churches spend much of the time on administrative functions other than worship.

The Judah Ministries founder said he was aware of problems with the building, including the "real bad" need to repair the roof.

He said only minor modifications are needed on the ground floor, but McKeesport Fire Department inspected the basement and second floor on two occasions.

Board member Gary Dailey, who attended the initial hearing into Yuricha's proposal last month, was absent Monday.

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