Rehab of old buildings seen as vital to keeping communities alive

| Sunday, Feb. 27, 2011

There is more to saving old homes than a preserving a building. Often it centers more on preserving a neighborhood.

That's what Lawrenceville plumber Nick Poillucci said about his interest in redoing homes in that neighborhood. He remodeled his own home — which has been valued at $75,700 by Allegheny County — as a way of maintaining his presence in the neighborhood. He's also done work on other buildings.

Besides making sure the community remains solid, renovating old buildings "seems like a good investment," he said.

Such projects are crucial to keeping neighborhoods alive, said Bill Barron of Barron Commercial Real Estate, and are part of why the business district of the Lawrenceville has found new life.

Barron decided to make an investment in Lawrenceville in the mid-1990s, and has purchased several commercial and residential properties since then.

In the 10 to 15 projects he has worked on there and in Bloomfield and Garfield, he has "tried to retain the look" to ensure the buildings fit into the community.

He renovated the building that is now the home of a Crazy Mocha coffee shop in the North Side. Development costs were about $142,500 for the building, which he acquired for $16,000. He has started renovating the building next to it for retail and apartment space. Both projects are part of a Central North Side renewal plan.

The federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program was created with projects like Barron's in mind.

The program was started by Congress in 2008 to help stabilize communities suffering because of foreclosures and abandonment. Funds for renewal projects were sent to state, county and local governments governments and nonprofit groups.

Jessica Smith Perry, associate director of housing and urban redevelopment for Pittsburgh, She said the city, on its own or through the state, received $2 million from the first round of funding in that program, $4 million in the second round and has applied for $5 million in the third.

Michael Edwards and Daniel Cocks moved to Connellsville, Fayette County, in 2001 to turn an aging mansion, the Newmyer House, into a bed-and-breakfast. They closed it in 2006 when the county announced plans to build what the B&B owners called a "half-way house" across the street.

Since then, they have turned the house into their home. Edwards said he has "no idea" what they have spent on building, but their involvement in the community has led to a number of gains. He is the executive director of the Connellsville Redevelopment Authority, and the pair were key in establishing the Fayette County Cultural Trust. The group, with a $100,000 annual budget, aims to enrich the area with shows and events.

The two also played a part in establishing Connellsville's Main Street Program and in the renewal of the Porter Theater, and helped raise awareness of the role the city can play as a stop on the Great Allegheny Passage. The passage is the bicycle-pedestrian route from Cumberland, Md., that is a few miles from completion in Pittsburgh.

Additional Information:

How much do they make?

Occupation: Plumber

Pay range: $39,440 -$64,440

Qualifications: Training through an apprentice system, or trade/professional school programs.

Real estate developer

Pay range: $54,000-$153,000

Qualifcations: Academic programs; experience in real estate

Source: Individuals; state Occupational Employment Statistics Survey

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