Blairsville seeks grants for upgrades to armory building, former grocery store
By Jeff Himler
Published: Saturday, July 20, 2013, 12:42 a.m.
Blairsville Council is applying for two state grants to support economic development and recreation and fitness efforts in the borough.
At its regular Tuesday meeting, the council voted to apply for grant-to-loan funding of up to $500,000 from the Department of Community and Economic Development. The money initially would be reissued by the borough as a loan to help with building and site improvements at the former BiLo supermarket building at East Market and North Morrow streets.
The borough also is requesting grant funds totaling an estimated $180,000 through the state Commonwealth Financing Authority's Greenways, Trails and Recreation program. That money would be used to replace the roof on the historic but aging former Blairsville armory that now is owned by the borough and is used as an extension of the town's community recreation center.
The former BiLo building has been vacant since the store was closed in March 2010 — following a change of hands that resulted from the grocery chain's former owner, Penn Traffic Company, filing for bankruptcy.
Since then, Blairsville has been without a full-service downtown grocery store and town officials have been hoping that the new, current owners will be able to attract a food market to the building once more.
While noting he could not go into detail, borough manager Tim Evans said Tuesday that there are positive signs on that front. “There is interest in the store,” he said, adding that the building owners are “working real hard and making a lot of progress.”
If Blairsville is awarded the DCED grant and then loans the money at low interest to the owners, it should make prospects of redeveloping the store that much brighter.
Evans said the developers would be responsible for meeting a required local share of the project costs.
Ultimately, he said, the building owners would be required to repay the grant to the borough, which would retain the money as a revolving fund from which loans could be issued for additional private development ventures. “We can use it for future economic development,” he said.
According to Evans, Blairsville Borough would have to provide a 20 percent match for the armory roof grant, possibly from another funding source. Aerobics and other fitness classes are held in the 1927 armory building located on North Walnut Street. With its roomy interior and castle-like facade, it was also rented for at least one wedding ceremony.
But Evans said, the building, which has interior pipes to direct away rainwater, now “leaks like a sieve,” and that is causing damage to wooden flooring. He said replacing the roof is the first step needed to address the problem.
Council accepted a proposal from S&T Bank to provide a $35,000 loan for various other recreation and fitness improvements by the borough recreation board. Of two banks that submitted proposals for the five-year loan, S&T quoted the lowest interest rate, at 2.45 percent.
According to Evans, $7,285 of the borrowed funds will be used to update playground equipment behind the Blairsville Community Center at North Lane and Stewart Street. Some of the money also will be used to complete improvement of the borough tennis court, with $5,800 for surfacing and $568 for a net and poles.
The remaining portion of the loan will be tapped to purchase various fitness and weightlifting equipment at the community center including two elliptical machines, a treadmill, kettle bells, weights and an Olympic bar.
Council voted 5-1 to approve a parking and traffic ordinance that addresses issues on a stretch of Walnut Street just south of Market Street. It also increases the fine for overparking at a metered space from $2 to $5 and establishes 15 rental spots in the municipal parking lot behind the Serell building, where the Blairsville Pharmacy is located. Each space would be available to rent for $50 per month while 15 other spots would remain metered. Four spots will be designated as handicapped parking spaces.
Ron Evanko said he voted against the ordinance because he felt council should have expanded its scope to address other problem areas, not just South Walnut.
To address traffic and safety concerns on South Walnut, the ordinance eliminates on-street parking spaces in front of the Blairsville post office, between Market Street and Iron Alley. Evans has noted that motorists using the spaces often open their car doors with little regard for oncoming traffic.
Also, left turns are now prohibited for all vehicles either eastbound or westbound that exit from Iron Alley onto Walnut.
The new $5 fine would apply if paid during the first 24 hours after a vehicle has been ticketed for overparking. The fine would then double to $10 if paid within 48 hours. After that point, the violator, if convicted, would be liable for a $25 fine plus court costs.
The fine for parking in a handicapped space without proper designation on the license plate or elsewhere on the vehicle carries a fine ranging from a minimum of $50 to a maximum of $300.
Evans reported that the borough's summer paving program, which focused on several alleys, has been completed. Contractor Ligonier Construction applied the new blacktop on July 12 and on Monday.
Jeff Himler is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2910 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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