Community college, tourism agency partner to reopen Zelienople's historic Kaufman House

The restaurant has been closed since a fire in 2011

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An effort to bring back an anchor business in Zelienople has taken a major step forward with the signing of a purchase agreement for the Kaufman House.

The charitable foundation that supports the Butler County Tourism and Promotion Agency plans to buy the former restaurant, which was put out of commission by a kitchen fire in 2011, from Ken Pilarski.

The foundation plans to open the business — one that has enjoyed a regional reputation for some 40 years — as a restaurant and hotel. Then, in partnership with the Butler County Community College, the business will be an on-site training facility for college students interested in culinary arts and hospitality.

“This meshes perfectly with part of our mission — economic development and education,’’ said Jack Cohen, president of the Butler County Tourism Foundation.

The target date for reopening is 2016.

Mr. Cohen said when he heard that Mr. Pilarski had abandoned hope of reopening the Kaufman House, he immediately saw it as an opportunity for his agency, for the college and for the community. Nick Neupauer, president of Butler County Community College — which operates culinary arts and hospitality management programs — immediately latched onto the idea.

“We don’t want a main building in the center of town shuttered. If you look at that whole corridor, that’s the anchor building for that community," Mr. Cohen said. "It adds to the vibrance of the community and corridor. And working to bring it back to life just fits every criterion of everything we’re supposed to be doing [as a tourism, economic development and education agency].”

Employees would staff the business, and students would “fill in” and learn at the same time. A management company would be hired to run it as a for-profit entity, Mr. Cohen explained. Before the fire that closed it, the Kaufman House provided 94 full-time jobs.

The purchase price in the agreement signed Jan. 9 is $500,000. Another $2 million will be needed to renovate and reopen. The foundation is the official purchaser but is pursuing grants to cover the costs of buying the building and reopening it. The Butler County Redevelopment Authority is helping in seeking a state anchor building program grant. “We need the grants to make it work, but we’re very hopeful,” Mr. Cohen said. Zelienople and its redevelopment authority also are seeking grants on behalf of the project.

Built in 1909, the landmark building once was a restaurant and a hotel with 32 rooms, though the hotel functions were abandoned in the early 1970s. Mr. Cohen said that, after a redesign that meets current codes, the structure would have 18 or 19 hotel rooms along with the restaurant.

Mr. Cohen said the project offers the opportunity to restore jobs to the community, educate local students, revitalize a critical business on the borough’s Main Street, and draw tourists to what is envisioned as a “boutique-style” enterprise.

“We’re glad to be part of such an exciting endeavor that can enhance our credit and non-credit curricula, while providing hands-on experience in a true teaching environment,” Mr. Neupauer said in a written statement. “We believe this opportunity will take our hospitality management program to an unprecedented level that may serve as a model for other colleges nationwide. As Butler County’s community college, we are always looking for meaningful partnerships and collaborations. The partnership is for all of the right reasons. We’re excited about the possibilities.”

The Butler County Redevelopment Authority plans to submit applications for two Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development programs, including the Growing Greener II Main Street and Downtown Redevelopment program and the Keystone Communities Anchor Building program.

Karen Kane: or 724-772-9180.

Karen Kane: or at 724-772-9180.

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