Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Vacant Lot May Be Key to Butler Revitalization

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Vacant Lot May Be Key to Butler Revitalization

Article excerpt

If the head of Butler's Redevelopment Authority gets his wish, the site of a former card store could become the keystone in a downtown renewal program.

The Wishing Well card and gift shop, which stood for many years at Main and Cunningham streets, has been torn down, and workers have been clearing the last of the debris and leveling the lot.

"The bad news is we have a vacant lot," said Perry O'Malley, interim executive director of the authority. "The good news is it is on the busiest corner in Butler. That makes it a prime piece of property that would be a catalyst for future revitalization. As a result, we will be selective in choosing a developer."

O'Malley hopes to see a two-story commercial building fill the space.

"A project on this site could be a catalyst for developing loft housing, for attracting new businesses and for keeping existing businesses on Main Street," he said.

The new structure could have up to 35,000 square feet for offices and stores, he said. Just as importantly, he said, it could spark more use of upper floors in adjoining buildings.

Much of the existing second- and third-floor office space in the city cannot meet current building codes and federal access regulations, such as provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act, O'Malley said.

Creating a common lobby with elevators to serve both a new building and one or more neighboring structures would open up another 12,000 square feet of commercial space, he estimated.

The site could be worth up to $135,000, an amount that would be close to what it cost the authority to buy the former card store and tear it down, he estimated. The authority bought the structure for $85,000 in December 2003.

The authority's initial intention was to renovate the space for offices.

Problems quickly mounted, O'Malley said. A roof that was to be repaired needed to be replaced, he said. Interior water damage over a number of years had weakened the interior structure. A large part of what had been three separate buildings had been gutted many years ago to create a movie theater, he said. Renovation of what he called a "cavernous monstrosity" would have been very expensive.

Demolition of the card shop building, however, has meant the loss of a neighboring store, Pepper's Flowers.

The flower shop had shared a wall with the Wishing Well building. Loss of water service and the potential danger from falling rubble during demolition persuaded owner Steve Boyer to move his business to a warehouse he owns at 201 Kohler Ave. in the Lyndora section of Butler Township.

Boyer said he doesn't know when -- or if -- his business will return to downtown Butler. He said he was willing to consider offers from the authority to buy his store, but O'Malley said the authority had no plans to take neighboring properties. …

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