Fate unclear for former St. Nicholas property in Pittsburgh

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The fate of the former St. Nicholas Church -- long a topic of debate among its parish, preservation groups and the city of Pittsburgh -- is now clear. The Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh announced Tuesday that the Troy Hill landmark will be torn down over the next several days.

Still unclear, however, is what will become of the property.

"We don't know," the Rev. Ronald Lengwin, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, said Wednesday. "There will be an effort to try to sell it, of course."

He said decisions about when to sell the property, and to whom, are the responsibility of St. Nicholas Parish in Millvale, which merged with the Troy Hill church in 1994. The Rev. Dan Whalen, the parish's administrator, deferred comment to Father Lengwin.

St. Nicholas is the last remaining intact structure along a stretch of Route 28 being expanded by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. Allegheny Auto Body, an auto repair shop that was next to St. Nicholas, was demolished last month to allow the Route 28 expansion project to proceed.

The project originally included the church property, and in 2000 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the Pittsburgh diocese planned to sell the church to PennDOT so it could be razed.

Yet St. Nicholas, reportedly the first Croatian Catholic church in North America, had strong support from some parishioners and other preservationists who wanted to see the building remain intact, and perhaps turned into a museum.

The church was deemed eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, so a decade ago PennDOT began the process of redesigning its Route 28 project to avoid the church property. The agency designed a section of Route 28 with narrower shoulders to accommodate the narrow corridor between the church and railroad tracks across the road.

The decision to tear down St. Nicholas, which has been vacant since 2004, was made in part because the structure posed a safety hazard, the diocese said Tuesday.

"There are no discussions with PennDOT at this point," Father Lengwin said.

Jim Struzzi, a spokesman for PennDOT, said he could not comment when asked whether PennDOT may try to acquire the property or widen Route 28 in the area. Work on the section of Route 28 fronting the church is not scheduled to begin until spring 2014.

neigh_city - Transportation - lifestyle

Kaitlynn Riely: kriely@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1707.


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