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Monessen man seeks to preserve historic building as arts center

vimusiccenter081015
Chris Buckley | Trib Total Media
Monessen High School Assistant Band Director Matt Shorraw stands in front of the building he dreams of turning into a music center.
vimusiccenter081015
Chris Buckley | Trib Total Media
Monessen High School Assistant Band Director Matt Shorraw stands in front of the building he dreams of turning into a music center.
vimusiccenter081015
Chris Buckley | Trib Total Media
Monessen High School Assistant Band Director Matt Shorraw stands in front of the building he dreams of turning into a music center.

Matt Shorraw believes the historic building at 500 Donner Ave., Monessen, is worth preserving.

He hopes that city council and the Monessen Redevelopment Authority agree.

Now he has an ally.

The building was listed at No. 8 on The Young Preservationists Association of Pittsburgh’s list of Top Ten Best Preservation Opportunities in the Pittsburgh Area. The list spotlights historic sites “that may be endangered but have a good chance for survival and reuse.”

According to its website, The Young Preservationists Association “represents and promotes younger voices in historic preservation. Our organization uses community engagement and education to advocate for the preservation of historic sites and structures in the Greater Pittsburgh region. YPA insists that historic preservation is an essential tool for economic development and regional revitalization.”

Shorraw, assistant band director at Monessen High School and president of the city’s amphitheater committee, has a dream of converting the former Monessen Savings and Trust Building into a music center.

His “dream” for the building includes a café on the first floor of the building where visitors and musicians could enjoy a sandwich and “hang out.”

The second floor would include office space as well as a music center for youth.

He would restore the auditorium currently on the third floor of the building.

Shorraw said as he envisions it, the center would act as a nonprofit, with the cafe acting as a for-profit to fund the center. He envisions the center offering music lessons for this who can’t afford them.

The building was opened in 1905 as the Monessen Savings and Trust Company, a five story fire-proof building of brick, stone, and steel at the corner of Fifth Street and Donner Avenue on three lots.

Following the move of the bank from the 500 Donner Ave. location in 1928, the property was leased to the Green Stores, Inc., which remodeled the first floor and basement to accommodate their department store.

It was heavily damaged during a fire in 1929.

As the building was being restored, the Green Stores merged with McClellan Stores. The McClellan Stores opened in the restored location on May 23, 1929.

By 1933, it became the home of A&P.

It would later become home to Thrift Drug, Health Mart and Panorama Enterprises.

It has been vacant for likely 25 to 30 years.

The recognition comes as Shorraw is building support for his project and hoping to bring city hall along.

“I think this will put a spotlight on Monessen and that building,” Shorraw said.

It is putting the finishing touches on a business plan for the multi-building project. He estimates it will cost $8 million over five years to renovate 500 Donner Ave. as well as the former mini mall site.

He has received 235 signatures on a petition and 20 letters of support. He is also pursuing grants for the project.

Since the listing, Shorraw was contacted by the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation and the Preservation Pittsburgh, which support the project.

Fundraising for the project has been very modest, but he has been approached by several people who have vowed financial support if he acquires the building.

Since beginning the project, he has expanded his scope to include the former mini mall.

He hopes to acquire both structures plus the vacant lot in between for a nominal cost so he can put all money raised into rehabilitating the structures. Shorraw said a contractor has told him they will need to be gutted, but the walls are solid.

He envisions a mix of retail, service-related offices and a technology center for seniors.

“I’m not going to just focus on youth,” Shorraw said. “There will be something for everyone.”

He said Communities That Care will act as project manager.

The city owns 500 Donner Ave. The city redevelopment authority owns the mini mall and the empty lot between two buildings.

“I’m hoping to offer them a nominal amount of money because it will take a lot to get them up to code,” Shorraw said. “It’s all about going to council and saying, ‘This is what I want to do. Give me a chance to do it.’”

A GoFundMe account, under “500 Donner Monessen,” has been set up.

He expects to approach council “soon.”

“I am putting the finishing touches on my plan,” Shorraw said. “I want to make sure everything is complete before I approach them.”

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at [email protected].

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