Biking: The Progress Fund set to lease renovated home

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The Progress Fund continues to impact West Newton, one of the major trail towns along the Great Allegheny Passage.

The fund, a nonprofit lender to travel and tourism businesses, had an open house Monday at a two-story, commercial building it has renovated at 101 South Water St. The building has a new roof, new windows, a storefront and an enclosed back porch overlooking the Youghiogheny River.

The red brick building, formerly occupied by the Riverside Lounge, borders the town bridge over the Yough that links the main business district to the passage.

There are two recessed entrances from Water Street to the 2,500 square foot first floor, a bare walls space that can be evenly divided for separate tenants. A third entrance leads up 22 steps to the second floor that could be developed as a hostel.

David Kahley, president and chief executive officer of The Progress Fund, said the Greensburg-based organization will have $600,000 invested by the time everything is done, including new plumbing, wiring, dry wall, heating, air conditioning and other interior improvements.

Kahley said the improvements will be made to suit the tenant or tenants. The rent for the entire first floor is $1,200 a month plus utilities; $650 a month plus utilities for half the space. Off street parking on a dirt and gravel lot next door is included. Storage space is available in the basement.

“We’re looking for tenants who will be the best fit for the building and for the town,” Kahley said. “We don’t want to compete with any of the businesses in town.”

“We want to cater to trail town visitors and the local population,“ said William Prince, program manager of the Trail Town Program. He said the building also is marketed by Downtown West Newton Inc., a nonprofit community development organization.

“We love to see progress like this in our town,” said borough secretary Pam Humenik.

“They’ve done a great job with the building,” added Chris Luikart, vice president of the borough council.

“It will be interesting to see who moves in here,” said Mary Lou Rendulic, co-owner with her husband, Rob, of two bed-and-breakfasts that border the passage — Bright Morning and The Annex Inn. The Progress Fund helped them buy the latter.

The eight guest rooms at the B&Bs are across the passage from the town’s visitors center.

Information: (724-216-9160); (814-215-9176); 724-872-0792); (724-872-0100.

Award winners

Linda McKenna Boxx, president of the Allegheny Trail Alliance, received a Special Recognition Award “for her unrelenting commitment to the success of the Great Allegheny Passage.

“Without her unselfish dedication and passion, this remarkable trail, which quickly became one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Laurel Highlands, would not have been completed,” said Ron Virag, president and chief executive of the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau.

The bureau named Judy Pletcher, owner and operator of the Rockwood Mill Shoppes & Opera House, Mill Shoppe Antiques and the Hostel on Main, as its Tourism Entrepreneur of the Year.

Virag said her businesses on Main Street have become popular stops for thousands of bicyclists and visitors. Pletcher and her husband, Terry, converted a century old feed mill into the businesses.

The awards were presented Oct. 17 at the bureau’s annual dinner at Saint Vincent College.

Larry Walsh writes about recreational bicycling for the Post-Gazette.

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