Highland Park resident buys St. Clement Church in Tarentum | TribLIVE.com
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Phillip Rhodes poses in front of the former St. Clements Church in West Tarentum where he plans to put an assisted-living facility or similar housing into the building. Photographed on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015.

Phillip Rhodes is Catholic, attended Catholic school as a child and sent all three of his children to Catholic school.

So naturally he was the perfect candidate to purchase the long-vacant St. Clement Church and School property on West Ninth Avenue in Tarentum.

Rhodes bought the property on Dec. 2 , making a winning bid of $50,000, during a live auction by Hostetter Auctioneers of Beaver County.

And while this 48-year-old software engineer wasn't looking for a property steeped in Catholic tradition, he believes a little bit of divine intervention may have led him there.

Rhodes' random Internet search of available real estate led to the St. Clements listing.

Seeking a business opportunity in the Alle-Kiski Valley — Rhodes has fond childhood memories of an idyllic life in Freeport – he put the auction on his radar.

“I love the rivers and the location Tarentum affords,” said Rhodes, who resides in Highland Park with his wife and three children.

He fell in love with the character, charm and very large space, said Rhodes.

“This whole process has been fortuitous,” said Rhodes. “I did a walk through thirty minutes before the online/on-site auction and was a little nervous because I was bidding against this one other man running up and down the building talking about how fabulous a property it is. But once the bidding hit 50K, I had the winning bid, beating out 30 registered bidders.”

According to data from Allegheny County's real estate records, the property is valued at $200,000. It sits on a half-acre and includes 43,000 square feet of space.

St. Clements ownership has changed many hands, with the most recent seller listed as LLC CV12 in Los Angeles, according to Rhodes' legal team.

The property includes a parking lot for 15-plus cars, electrical and lighting upgrades, newer windows in the now-closed school building, and convenient access to Route 28 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

“I got an awesome deal,” said Rhodes. “The property is a gem.”

Rhodes is “thrilled and excited” to own such a historic piece of history in Tarentum.

He has 45 days to close the sale and plans to hire a general contractor to handle renovations that will “cost over six figures,” he said. Rhodes hopes to have contractors scheduled soon.

Phase one will be an assessment of immediate, needed repairs, combined with a long- term redevelopment plan, said Rhodes.

“I want to remodel and go with the church's character, not stomp it out,” he said.

Although most of the church and school are stripped of furnishings, the bell and pipe organ remain.

Tarentum Mayor Carl Magnetta said the borough is excited a new owner is coming in and wants to move forward with development.

“It's a shame it has sat idle all of these years. When it closed, the school was in great condition,” Magnetta said. “It's fantastic.”

Rhodes isn't steadfast on the type of business he will bring to Tarentum. In fact, he's seeking input from the local community and giving them an online voice.

He has created both a website and Facebook page to solicit feedback, share thoughts and suggest plans for the building.

Some ideas include residential apartments, an assisted-living facility and a technology-incubation hub, according to Rhodes' website.

Rhodes intends to follow the ABCD methodology to develop the best plans for the site. ABDC — asset-based community development — is a methodology for the sustainable development of communities based on their strengths and potentials.

“There are a lot of possibilities for its usage,” said Rhodes. “I intend to solicit input from the community for what would be some of the more favored uses of the property.”

Dolly Mistrik, president of the Alle-Kiski Valley Heritage Museum in Tarentum, was both a parishioner and student at St. Clements and is “happy to see something happen with the property.”

Joe Bodnar, 92, of Tarentum had heard the property was up for auction. He was a student at St. Clement and recalled his fondest memory.

“Running away from one of my nun teachers and crawling out of a school window to avoid punishment,” said Bodnar.

Bodnar had planned on attending the auction, but illness kept him home.

“At least that empty church won't be an eyesore anymore,” said Bodnar.

Joyce Hanz is a TribTotal Media freelance writer.

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