Palisades in McKeesport to get face-lift

$184,000 grant to help upgrade McKeesport's historic hall

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The historic Palisades hall in McKeesport is getting an update, thanks to an Allegheny County grant.

A $184,000 grant will be used primarily to make interior improvements on the second-floor of the events center at Water Street and Fifth Avenue, said Jim Haughey, director of the McKeesport Redevelopment Authority.

"Most of the improvements will be cosmetic," he said. "We'll be painting the entire room and making small repairs to the walls. That will be the biggest part of the grant."

"Then, we'll replace carpets in the entrance to the building, near the elevator," he said.

The old lights will be replaced and a new sidewalk and improvements to a fence are also planned, he said.

Mayor Michael Cherepko said, "We want to make that whole area -- between the Palisades, the bike trail and the marina -- a destination point; an events center, and market it to groups for weddings and dances and parties.

"Right now, there are dances there -- country line dances and oldies dances -- but we want to expand on that."

Seven contractors bid on the projects, and the bids, which were opened Aug. 20,came in under the anticipated amounts, Mr. Haughey said, so as long as the bids conform to specifications, all planned work should be completed.

The city engineer and solicitor will review the bids before contracts are awarded at a special meeting this month of the five-member redevelopment authority board, he said.

The hall's size and location make it a popular spot for weddings, dances and concerts, city officials said. It is an attractive venue for school and community events because it can accommodate 600 people at dinner tables and has a 20-foot high ceiling. It also has a wooden floor, which many local residents remember gliding across to the music played by a big band, rock or doo-wop group.

The hall was the site for under-21 dances in the 1960s and 1970s, where disc jockeys such as "Terry Lee" Trunzo spun records.

It also has been the venue for Golden Gloves boxing events and wrestling matches through the years.

The Palisades is near the entrance to the marina area, which houses about 200 boats docked along the Monongahela River. The Youghiogheny River flows into the Mon River in the downtown area as well.

"We have 200 boat slips and we are fully booked and we have 40 people on a waiting list," Mr. Cherepko said. "Four out of five of the people who have boats there are from out of town."

The completion of the Great Allegheny Passage bike trail, which was recently finished near the Sandcastle water park, runs alongside the two rivers through the city. Bikers can now travel the trail from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C., which is paved through the McKeesport section.

"I can't believe how many people are riding bikes [there]," the mayor said. "I sat in my car on a Saturday about two weeks ago and counted 27 bikes going by in about 15 minutes.

"So we are talking to a developer about getting a boat and bike rental set up in the area," he said.

The Palisades building is owned by the redevelopment authority and is part of the McKees Point Commission established by Mr. Cherepko, which includes the McKees Point Marina and the Waterfront Recreation Area.

Mr. Cherepko, 36, knows the history of the Palisades is important to people in the region, whether they did the jitterbug or the twist there.

"I recently was doing a proclamation recognizing a local woman on her 101st birthday," he said. When he remarked on her longevity, she attributed it to "all that dancing I did at the Palisades over the years," he said.

Officials hope to complete renovations by the end of the year.

More on the Palisades: 412-672-2001. For line dance information: 412-400-9977.

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Debra Duncan, freelance writer:


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