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Demolition begins on former St. Nicholas church along Route 28

| Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013, 2:48 p.m.

Demolition of the controversial former St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church along Route 28 in Troy Hill began Tuesday despite a last-ditch effort by Pittsburgh to save the landmark building.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority offered to buy the church, but St. Nicholas Parish in Millvale, which owns the building, turned the offer down, said the Rev. Ronald Lengwin, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh. Lengwin said doing so was “in the interest of the safety and welfare of the community and the stability of the (Millvale) parish.”

The diocese said the parish spent $360,000 to maintain and insure the building the past eight years as it sat empty. The monthly expense of $1,800 represents 17 percent of the 225-member parish's income, the diocese said.

The North Side Leadership Conference and the Preserve Croatian Heritage Foundation, a nonprofit consisting of former church members, worked for years to turn the building into a national immigrant museum but never could reach agreement with the diocese to buy it.

“It would have been a real showplace for Pittsburgh and for the diocese. This is a sad day,” said Bill Vergot, 79, of North Strabane, who helped start the foundation.

The city law department in October withdrew an appeal seeking to overturn an Allegheny County Common Pleas Court decision that gave the diocese permission to demolish the building.

URA Chairman Yarone Zober, who is chief of staff to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, said the URA subsequently offered to buy the church with the intention of turning it over to the North Side Leadership Conference and foundation.

“The URA and city of Pittsburgh attempted on multiple occasions to work with the diocese to acquire the building,” he said.

Lengwin said crews began the demolition by removing the church's bells.

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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