State aid sought to raze Monsour Medical Center in Jeannette

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Westmoreland County is applying for a $1 million state grant to tear down the Monsour Medical Center tower along Route 30 in Jeannette —- hopefully by this summer.

Frustrated by attempts to get the Monsour family to demolish the eyesore, which closed as a hospital in 2006, the county is going through a court process to obtain the property and seeking state aid to demolish it.

Jason Rigone, executive director of the Westmoreland County Industrial Development Corp., said the county will apply to the state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program for the grant. The deadline for applying for the semi-annual grants is Feb. 7.

Mr. Rigone knows the state program is competitive, but he thinks the state will rank this project high because it is a redevelopment project.

“This project may not have the job creation that the Westmoreland County Airpark project did, for which we received a grant last year,” he said. “However, this is a redevelopment project, with an environmental impact, and it’s in a blighted area, and it will improve the safety and welfare of the residents.

“This state redevelopment program traditionally is for true economic development and redevelopment, so this program is a good fit for this,” he said. "I’m confident it will be viewed as a good fit."

“The Monsour property is in a prime commercial corridor,” said Commissioner Tyler Courtney, “so I view this as an economic development project. It’s the gateway to Westmoreland County government and the city of Greensburg. This has been one of our top economic development projects."

In December, the governor’s office authorized $133 million for 56 projects in the state through the redevelopment assistance grants, but many more applicants applied from the state’s 67 counties.

Last year, the Westmoreland County Museum of Art obtained a $1 million grant under the program that will go toward its current expansion project in Greensburg.

The county received a $1 million grant to develop 50 additional acres at the business airpark adjacent to the Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Unity from the state program last year.

It is a 50-50 matching state grant program, so the county will have to chip in money, as well.

The Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program’s website cites criteria for the grants that include job creation and financial impact of the project. And the program rewards projects situated in a blighted or brownfield area and those that improve the economic health of the community, enhance the quality of life and have a significant regional impact.

Mr. Courtney called the nine-story hospital tower a public nuisance. The health and safety hazards include asbestos, mold, open stairwells and medical waste, he said.

Mr. Courtney said it was “very irritating” that the Monsour family walked away from the property.

“It was disrespectful to people, and amoral, to shun your responsibility as a property owner,” he said.

"It’s a bad reflection on that family, and I don’t understand how they could do it.”

Mr. Rigone said a senior adviser to the secretary of the Department of Community and Economic Development toured the site this summer and understands the importance of it to the county.

The governor’s budget office scores the projects and then a selection committee chooses the projects. Representatives of the Department of Revenue, Department of Banking, Department of Community and Economic Development, Governor's Policy Office and Office of Legislative Affairs are on the selection committee.

Mr. Rigone said the county hopes to hear on its application for the state grant within a few months, but if not, he said the county is committed to moving ahead on the demolition project.

He said it is usually a 4- to 6-month review process for the grants.

But he said if the state hasn’t approved the grant by late in the second quarter of 2014, the county will begin the demolition project and seek state reimbursement. A county report last year determined it would take $1 million to remove the asbestos and tear the structure down.

Meanwhile, the county is moving ahead to legally obtain the Monsour property. It will seek to gain ownership of the property through a “free and clear” sale held by a county judge. The county is in the process of notifying lien holders of their intent, but Mr. Rigone said that process often takes months to locate and notify numerous lien holders and property owners.

For years, the county and Jeannette have attempted to hold the Monsour Medical Center board of directors and the Monsour Foundation responsible for the deteriorating building, but with no success. The hospital declared bankruptcy before closing.

Mr. Rigone said the county and Jeannette signed an agreement of cooperation in December to work together to secure and begin demolition at the site.

He said Jeannette will make sure the hospital is secure from trespassers, either by boarding it up or constructing a fence, and the city will tear down two dilapidated houses near the old hospital.

The city has obtained private funding, from the Neighborhood Partnership Program, to help cover the costs of the demolition. Mr. Rigone said The Elliott Co., one of Jeannette’s largest employers, and First Niagara Bank are two of the private partners.

“We’ve been working on this project for a long time, but next week people will begin to see some tangible results when these houses come down,” he said. 

Debra Duncan, freelance writer:

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