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Local buyer interested in Connellsville's WCVI property

| Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013, 6:18 p.m.
Evan R. Sanders | Daily Courier
WCVI building, located along Crawford Avenue in Connellsville, is no longer of interest to a developer from Phoenix, Ariz.

All hope is not lost for Connellsville's WCVI building, located on East Crawford Avenue.

On Tuesday, Shane O'Brien of Phoenix, Ariz. told the Daily Courier that he was not taking possession of the building at 131-139 E. Crawford Ave.

O'Brien was the only bidder on the building during a sale from Fayette County, which owns the property. He had put a bid in to the county for $169.

The building has been empty for several years and is in dangerous condition, according to city officials.

Jenna Rouse, owner of Jenna Buys Houses, a company that refurbishes older buildings, said Wednesday she is still interested in the property.

“I'm always interested in revitalizing my hometown and my county,” she said. “I haven't totally confirmed the plans with the WCVI building if I have the opportunity to move forward. I'm sure they will vary once I see what I'm working with.”

Connellsville Councilman Gregory Ritch said he is working with Rouse, attempting to help her acquire the aging building.

“We on council worked very hard to put it into the hands of a (local) owner,” said Ritch. “Jenna Rouse is still interested. We want to move as quickly as we can, but under the same standards.”

Ritch said those standards include quickly stabilizing the structure so that it is no longer a danger to the public. Rouse said she has not fully developed her plans, but she would quickly work to make the building safe again.

“(My) initial scope of work includes the immediate safety factors and winter weatherproofing. Roof, windows, doors, and unsafe entries/exits will be (the) first priority,” she said. “Next will be the three storefronts. I would hope the attention prompts business owners to reach out so the units can be custom-built and custom-suited to their individual businesses.

“From there, we will go floor by floor and evaluate the best layout for several top-of-the-line, trendy, loft-inspired condos. I am unsure of the total square footage so I will have a better idea of number of units and layout once I better evaluate it.”

Rouse's plans call for maintaining the historically accurate look of the structure.

“What I can be sure of is restoring the exterior, as historically accurate as possible,” said Rouse. “I will be interested in locating pictures of the building from the past and bringing it back to life. It would be a disservice to the building and Connellsville's heritage to change a ‘historic' building to anything but.”

Fayette County Commission Chairman Al Ambrosini said Wednesday he did not know if the county had received official word from O'Brien that he had decided not to take possession of the building.

Ambrosini said Rouse's plans sound like what he would want to see happen to the structure, adding he had already talked to Ritch about the developments.

“That action would be good for the city and county,” he said. “I'm all for economic development. It (the rehabilitation) creates jobs.”

He said it would not only means jobs in the rehabilitation industry, but in the businesses that would occupy the structure when work is completed.

“Having it put back on the tax rolls and creating jobs, that's all good,” he said.

O'Brien on Tuesday said he was upset with the city for what he claimed was a lack of information about the condition of the building, claiming that was his reason for not taking possession of the building.

Connellsville Mayor Charles Matthews, Ritch and Tom Currey, city health and code officer, said that O'Brien had been given detailed information about the structure. All three also said the city does not own the property.

Matthews said Wednesday at the city council meeting that even though the building is owned by the county the city is doing what it can to see that it is sold or fixed up.

“We have had several meetings concerning several properties in the city, and Councilman (Gregory) Ritch has given tours of the building to a few different people,” he said. “This council has not shrugged it's responsibility on the WCVI building.”

“That building is still a public safety hazard and I will not jeopardize the loss of life over anything,” said Ritch.

Ambrosini said the property had been through sheriff's sales. Once it was not purchased, it was listed on the county website.

At that point, all that is required is a minimum bid of $100 to $150 to cover administrative costs. And there is usually only one buyer interested.

“Obviously, the county doesn't want to own properties,” said Ambrosini. “We want to get rid of them and get them back on the tax rolls.”

Ambrosini said the county will do everything possible to speed up the sale. He also said the county would have to look at demolition if Rouse or another possible buyer do not take possession.

“We would certainly have to look at that,” he said. “And there is the liability risk for the county or for the city.”

Karl Polacek is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at kpolacek@tribweb.com or 724-626-3538. Rachel Basinger, freelance writer, contributed.

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