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Town Centre's decline hurts borough, schools

| Sunday, Dec. 22, 2002

The Waterfront is hot. Edgewood Towne Centre is not.

While The Waterfront development in Homestead has provided a boon to the Steel Valley School District, a recent 37 percent reduction in Edgewood Towne Centre's value has financially pinched the Woodland Hills School District and Edgewood.

This is not merely a coincidence, some local officials say.

Featuring a popular combination of movie theaters, retail outlets and restaurants, The Waterfront has grown significantly since the first stores opened there in the fall of 2000. In the same period, the number of empty storefronts at Edgewood Towne Centre has significantly increased.

Steel Valley School District business manager John Yaklich attributed the center's recent troubles to The Waterfront's success.

"When you're losing business there's no doubt they're going to lose it to The Waterfront," Yaklich said.

"I would say that's a good assessment," said Edgewood Mayor Jean Davin, who noted an Office Depot moved from the Edgewood Towne Centre to The Waterfront earlier this year.

Allegheny County lowered the Edgewood shopping center's assessed value from $40 million to $25 million in February. Given the borough's millage rate of 5.847, the $15 million reduction in value of the shopping center represented an $87,705 annual hit to the borough's coffers.

For Woodland Hills School District, the reduction in the Edgewood Towne Centre value represents a $328,500 hit, given the district's property tax rate of 21.9 mills.

"It was pretty significant," district business manager Rich Day said.

Steel Valley, meanwhile, could realize more than $1.2 million in tax revenue from The Waterfront for the 2002-03 fiscal year, Yaklich said. That would double the $604,000 the district received from the development in 2001-02.

Despite rising costs for school districts, Yaklich said the growing windfall has enabled Steel Valley to hold its property tax rate steady at 18.92 mills.

Though Edgewood Towne Centre has seen better days, Edgewood council Vice President Pat Schaefer thinks the location can still be a viable retail center. Such tenants as Phar-Mor and National Record Mart, for example, closed not because of the location, but because the chains went bankrupt, she said.

"It's not the location, it's just the stores that were there," Schaefer said.

Representatives of the Oxford Development Corp., which manages Edgewood Towne Centre, could not be reached for comment.

For now, the economic surge is happening not at Edgewood Towne Centre but on the other side of the Monongahela River at The Waterfront. Yaklich just hopes the trend continues.

"How long it will stay like this nobody knows," he said.

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