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Developers get night out in Irwin

| Friday, July 16, 2010

Irwin is searching for a few more business owners like Lou Botti.

Botti, who has a background in construction and property development, decided last summer to buy the former Isaly's Bakery and Deli, a Main Street staple for 60 years until its closing in 2006.

In the past year, the building that originally was a dairy in the 1920s has been renovated on the first floor in anticipation of a Labor Day opening for the new Main Street Deli & Bakery, a spot for grabbing a scoop of Hershey's ice cream or ordering a lunch delivery.

Four two-bedroom apartments upstairs also have been fixed up and leased.

Botti even has his eye on other vacant properties in town -- unless other investors get to them first.

"The small-town attitude is the draw. You can't create it," said Botti, of LKB Properties. "If you have a little vision and forethought, it's a great little town."

Irwin's business community rolled out the red carpet Thursday afternoon seeking to entice more investors like Botti into the borough's downtown district.

The Irwin Project, a nonprofit community development group, sponsored an open house to showcase the available downtown properties for sale, rent or refurbishment.

Committee organizers unveiled a new borough logo with the slogan "Irwin: Find Your Place Here" and took potential investors on a tour of new businesses and vacant properties amid a downtown jazz concert.

The group also described the potential tax-incentive benefits of investing in downtown Irwin and informed them of available matching funds, up to $5,000, for restoration of building facades.

"Today is about getting people to come back to Irwin to live, and bring their business with them," said Mike Pochan, chairman of The Irwin Project.

Irwin officials say the vacancy rate in town is less than 5 percent, but several of the available properties provide enough space for office, retail, apartment or other uses.

Among the properties is a 15,000-square-foot building on Fourth Street that primarily was used for the sale of office furniture after a past life as a market.

A vacant 50-foot-by-130-foot lot, the site of the former Irwin Hotel, is located in a Keystone Innovation Zone. Westmoreland County's redevelopment authority used federal stimulus funding to raze the building, next to the historic Lamp Theatre on Main Street, after a fire in March 2009.

The authority negotiated a deal with the former property owner to donate it to the agency.

"It has to fit within the community and what the Irwin Project wants to do," authority Executive Director April Kopas said of a property's availability.

Other Main Street properties include the former Norwin Community Medical Center building and spaces in the building next to the popular Cheesecake Caffe.

Another new business owner, Christen Moleton, opened the Yoga Lounge, a fitness, wellness and nutrition studio, in Main Street in May.

She's in a renovated space that borough officials are calling the first loft-style apartment in Irwin and scheduling a variety of classes for adults and kids.

"We open the doors and let the music go out into the street, just to let people know, 'Hey, we're having fun in here,'" Moleton said.

For more information about The Irwin Project, contact 724-296-8074.

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