Dilapidated buildings hinder Greensburg downtown growth | TribLIVE.com
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Jacob Tierney
South Pennsylvania Avenue in downtown Greensburg. (Trib photo)

Leaky roofs and outdated structures are one big reason why about 20 percent of downtown Greensburg storefronts are vacant, despite businesses clamoring to move in, according to the Greensburg Community Development Corp.

The nonprofit plans to purchase four of the dilapidated buildings within the next year, and pursue private and public grants to fix them up and resell them to private owners, said Steven Gifford, its executive director.

Downtown real estate is in demand, with more businesses wanting to move into storefronts than there is space available, according to Gifford. Despite this, about one-fifth of the city’s 138 storefronts remain vacant, often because they are too run down or unsafe to occupy.

The development corporation has identified seven buildings with leaking roofs, and another five that cannot be occupied because of building code deficiencies, such as missing sprinkler systems and staircases.

“We’re a city that celebrated our 200th birthday in 1999. We’re old,” city planning director Barbara Ciampini said. “A lot of our buildings are older buildings, and some of them have been let go and not been maintained by their property owners.”

The 12 buildings identified by the corporation are:

• Three on South Pennsylvania Avenue

• Two on North Main Street

• Two on South Main Street

• Two on East Pittsburgh Street

• One on West Pittsburgh Street

• One on East Otterman Street

• One on West Otterman Street

The city code office has little ability to force owners to fix up their properties unless they pose an active health or safety threat to the community, Ciampini said.

The city has been successful in convincing some property owners to renovate their buildings to provide downtown student housing, but so far has had less luck with a handful of troubled buildings, Ciampini said.

For most private owners, the cost of fixing up dilapidated buildings is too high to even consider.

“Some have the means but not the desire; some have the desire but no means,” Gifford said.

Property owners often let their structures deteriorate gradually, Gifford said. Eventually problems stack up, and leaving the property vacant becomes a better financial decision than paying to fix it up to attract paying tenants.

“It’s a bad road to follow, but many people go that route,” Gifford said.

This is why the corporation is looking to take on the buildings itself.

Gifford identified the specific buildings but asked that specific addresses not be disclosed during negotiations between the parties.

“We’re going to help the current property owners get over the nightmare they’ve kind of created,” Gifford said.

The corporation is in talks with several property owners in hopes of buying their buildings. It will then pursue grants to fix those structures up before putting them back on the private market.

“That’s the only way we know how to do it, is to use some public dollars on this project,” said Ciampini, who is on the corporation board.

The corporation hopes to have renovated the first of four buildings on its agenda by September, with the other three to follow. It is focusing on buildings with severe roof damage.

“If the building was made dry, and could be occupied, there would be businesses to occupy those, which would be great,” Gifford said.

Jacob Tierney is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6646 or [email protected].

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