LSA funds sought for Trust Building revitalization project

Developer wants LSA funds for Trust Building revitalization project

January 15, 2013

A Pittsburgh-based developer Tuesday made a $750,000 funding request from the 2013 Local Share Account for an ambitious project to revitalize the Washington Trust Building.

Bill Gatti of TREK Development Group described a $17 million mixed-use project he said “would keep the building on the tax rolls and have a big impact on downtown Washington” while creating a combination of “workforce housing” and a continuance of commercial offices in the 111-year-old landmark building.

The request was made as the LSA panel held its second day of hearings. This year, about $26.6 million in funds – well above the estimated $7 million that will be made available from a portion of gaming revenue from The Meadows Racetrack & Casino – is being sought for 73 projects.

The 90,000-square-foot Trust Building at the corner of Beau and Main streets has been up for sale by the Richman family since 2010.

On Tuesday, Gatti told the panel the building currently has about 60 percent occupancy, but tenancy has been dwindling over a period of years.

TREK, which is working with the Redevelopment Authority of Washington County on the project, is proposing to build 44 apartments, about 75 percent of which would be considered “workforce housing,” Gatti said. He said those units would be made available to local residents earning less than 60 percent of the county’s median income, or about $30,000 per year. Rents would range between $500 and $625 per month.

The remaining units would rent for between $750 and $950 per month and would include some two-bedroom units.

As for the lower-priced units, Gatti said, he envisions a variety of tenants from the area’s workforce.

“They could be shale workers, they could be students or they could be downtown merchants.”

TREK’s plan, which has already received $625,000 in funding from the Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement Fund and Marcellus Shale impact fees, also calls for the building to retain commercial offices and ground-floor retail.

Gatti said TREK would be the owner/operator of the building if all of the funding can be assembled for the project.

Later in the morning, the panel also heard a $45,000 request from the city of Washington to use toward a $50,000 “Main Street Market Study/Analysis” for its Citywide Development Corp.

Mayor Brenda Davis said while the business district has seen “millions of dollars spent on new sidewalks” and has seen some successful development along South Main Street, including the recent expansion of Chapman Corp., “we still need to entice people to come downtown. We need to find a way to market the city.”

She said one of the problems for marketing retail space downtown is that information is outdated regarding square footage and even which properties are available.

Also among presenters Tuesday was Penn Commercial, the county’s largest postsecondary career and technical school. The request for $420,943 was made for a proposed welding technology training program, which the school would match with $439,125.

Nicole Lane, the school’s curriculum director, said it has successfully offered a welding program in the past, adding that the school is seeing increased demand from employers for qualified welders.

“The ultimate goal is to prepare Washington County residents for job opportunities in the county,” she said, adding that Penn Commercial already works with local companies like Caterpillar to customize job training programs.

Ron Davis, president of the Washington County Manufacturers Association, said a recent WCMA survey of its members found there were 230 openings for welders in the area.

According to Lane, the school, located in Oak Spring Plaza, plans to purchase the former Checkers Cleaners space in the plaza for the welding program, which would be capable of producing 81 welding graduates a year.

Tuesday’s hearings were the second and final day of hearings for requests for LSA funding. The panel will announce recipients in February.

Michael Bradwell has been business editor for the Observer-Reporter since 1995, and was named editor of The Energy Report in 2012. He joined the newspaper in 1990 as a general assignment reporter in the Greene County bureau and has also worked as a copy editor. A 1974 graduate of Pennsylvania State University with a degree in English, he began his career at the Bedford (Pa.) Gazette. Prior to joining the O-R, he served as public relations director for Old Bedford Village, account executive at two Pittsburgh public relations agencies and copywriter for the country’s largest wholesaler of mutual funds.

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