Some downtown Brownsville buildings to be razed
The Redevelopment Authority of Fayette County is reevaluating the downtown area of Brownsville known as the Neck to determine how many more buildings it owns will need to be razed because of their deteriorating condition.
Scott Beveridge / Observer-Reporter
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BROWNSVILLE – It will take an estimated $33 million to rehabilitate a string of downtown Brownsville buildings owned by Fayette County, money that no one has or is eager to invest in the blight, studies show.
As a result, the Redevelopment Authority of the County of Fayette on Wednesday began discussions on which of the 19 buildings in the downtown area known as the Neck should be demolished, said authority executive director Andrew French.
“Unfortunately, some of those buildings will not be saved,” French said Friday.
The county by January had taken possession of 30 Brownsville buildings through eminent domain from a Pittsburgh couple who bought them mostly through real estate tax sales two decades ago. Eight of those buildings were immediately put on a demolition list because they posed a public safety risk.
Because Fayette County is using federal money on downtown Brownsville, it must complete a wide range of studies on a reuse plan because the area is listed on the National Register of Historic Districts, French said. One of the study results was made public Monday at a meeting in Brownsville. French said the National Register listing probably won’t be lifted as there should be enough remaining historical buildings there to still qualify for the distinction.
The county, French said, is expected to have its recommendations completed in two weeks, and portions of that plan will likely include investing money just to stabilize some of the structures until investors can be found to rehabilitate them.
“The market conditions have changed,” French said, referring to a new Walmart about to open in West Brownsville and lead new business in that direction.
He said Brownsville Council supports a demolition plan because it is primarily concerned about eliminating the blight.
The downtown buildings include an ornate former bank and the Union Trust Building, which once served as headquarters for Monongahela Railway. Others served as department stores and have seen their roofs and interiors collapse.
Norman Ryan, who serves with Brownsville Area Revitalization Corp., said she would prefer that the county save those facades and construct new shell buildings behind them.
“We have to get the point across that we have a gem here,” Ryan said, mentioning that the facades were created by craftsmen whose talents are difficult to duplicate.
She said she believed all of the buildings could be saved without having to spend $33 million.
“Some of them, all you need is a new furnace and you can move in that building,” she said.
However, French said, the county would need to find money to save a facade because adding a new building behind it requires a roof.
“It comes with a cost,” he said.
The county, he said, has shown some of the buildings to developers, and nothing concrete has come from the marketing.
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