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Latrobe plans demolition of fire-damaged buildings

| Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Having cut through red tape, Latrobe officials are acting to remove two buildings destroyed by fire this year.

City manager Alex Graziani said crews should begin work on Tuesday to demolish an apartment building at the intersection of Main Street and Truman Avenue while a bar at 903 Ligonier St. is inspected for asbestos.

Demolition is expected to begin on the former Ligonier Street Grub and Pub after Friday, he said.

The city has hired a contractor using fire insurance money from property owner Jeff Regula and with his permission will remediate both sites to remove the health and safety hazards for Latrobe residents, Graziani said.

For now, an estimate for the work is about $40,000, Graziani said.

Removing asbestos and sealing shared walls with other adjacent buildings could increase costs, he said.

“It's very tricky to do demolition in an urban area like that,” Graziani said.

The downtown bar has remained damaged since a fire on April 18 started in an upstairs vacant apartment.

The four-unit apartment building at Main Street and Truman Avenue caught fire earlier that month.

Arson investigations by state police fire marshals are ongoing, Graziani said.

Those probes delayed demolition, as did the contractor's schedule and communication with the bank about the insurance money.

“I thought we could've done this in June. I'm surprised it's taken this long,” Graziani said.

The property owner did consent to the demolition and waive a 60-day waiting period after the city received the insurance funds to speed up the work.

“He's been cooperative, it just doesn't go fast,” Graziani said.

Regula, reached by phone, read from a prepared statement.

“I have been working with city officials diligently and have formulated a plan to have the properties demolished,” he said. “I've also been working with city officials and an investor who wishes to acquire the properties for the benefit of the city of Latrobe. I am confident with the continued hard work of everybody involved that the revitalization plan is going to work out.”

Regula would not elaborate on the identities of possible investors, saying he wanted to first finalize the sale.

He said he has owned the downtown building for 15 years, first operating his own sports memorabilia and card shop. About 10 years ago, he began leasing to business owners, including the Ligonier Street Grub and Pub.

Regula said only recently was he able to return to the building, where he had to sort through damaged memorabilia, including early issues of Sports Illustrated stored in the basement.

“It's really kind of a sad thing because a lot of the stuff I didn't realize I still had,” he said.

During an Aug. 26 meeting, Councilman Mike Skapura asked whether city officials were working to remove the eyesores and assure the public that progress was under way.

“There are people that are thinking that nothing's happening,” Skapura said.

Graziani, solicitor Jim Kelly and code enforcement officer Ann Powell explained at the meeting that they have been working with Regula, bank officials and the Department of Environmental Protection.

A resident complained at the Aug. 12 council meeting that a plastic security fence surrounding the downtown property was not secured and blew into the street.

Graziani said at the meeting that as of this past weekend, a more substantial construction fence would be in place.

The apartment building may cost between $8,000 and $10,000 to tear down, while demolition of the bar is estimated to cost up to $30,000, Graziani said.

Latrobe has an ordinance related to state law that requires a percentage of insurance proceeds to be put into an escrow account for the city, Kelly said.

Act 93 of 1994, known as the Fire Insurance Escrow Act, requires insurance companies to transfer a portion of the policy benefits to the municipality, if it has a local ordinance in place like Latrobe's.

The state Department of Community and Economic Development keeps a list on its website of municipalities that have filed ordinances, naming 27 in Westmoreland County, including Latrobe.

Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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