Demolition of the former St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church is under way, ending a longstanding battle between the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh and local preservationists over the future of the historic Troy Hill landmark.
The building was given historic status in 2001, which the parish was against because it limited the building's use to a potential buyer. The East Ohio Street building has not been used by the parish since it consolidated with the parish in Millvale eight years ago.
In a news release issued by the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, the Rev. Ronald Lengwin said the parish has spent $360,000 in maintenance and insurance costs for the abandoned building. He said attempts to sell it over the years repeatedly failed because buyers were unwilling "to assume liability for a failing structure and to comply with canonical regulations concerning the use of former church buildings."
In an effort to turn the building into a museum, the Preserve Croatian Heritage Foundation had raised $60,000 in 2008. The Northside Leadership Conference, working with the foundation, offered $1 for it.
But the diocese sought a hardship provision in the city's historic code that allows for demolition, stating the building was a financial drain and a dangerous structure. The Historic Review Commission denied the request, in part considering they had an offer that would relieve them of further expense, but the parish won in Common Pleas Court last summer.
Judge Robert Colville ruled $1 was not a reasonable return. He cited previous case law in describing the church's historic designation in 2001 as, in effect, "a taking" that left the church hobbled by historic code demands.
The city dropped its appeal in October and demolition plans began. Stained glass windows were removed in October and the asbestos removal began shortly afterward.
Father Lengwin said the parish declined an offer to purchase the property after the asbestos abatement and execution of a demolition contract "in the interest of the safety and welfare of the community and the stability of the parish."