Above: The old St. Nicholas building is highly visible from Route 28. (Photo courtesy Blaine Zehmisch)

Last week, the city Historic Review Commission denied St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Parish’s application for economic hardship, which would have allowed for parish to demolish the old church in Troy Hill.

The parish, which is now located in an historic church building in Millvale, was denied demolition rights because the building is an historic landmark and because it had a buyer with plans for its reuse.

The Northside Leadership Conference is interested in purchasing the church and turning it into a Croatian immigrant museum, a project supported by the Preserve Croatian Heritage Foundation and the Croatian Ambassador. NSLC marketing studies show that the museum would see around 25,000 visitors a year.

 The NSLC’s plan for the site also includes a bike and pedestrian loop trail that would go through Troy Hill and East Deutschtown as an extension of the North Shore trail. The marketing study estimates that the trail would attract an additional 25,000 visitors.

“If we are able to pull this off, it’s 50,000 visitors to the Northside,” said Mark Fatla, executive director of NSLC. “And the beautiful thing about 50,000 people is that they all have wallets.”

Father Dan Whalen, administrator of the St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Parish in Millvale, said he was not shocked by the Historic Review Commission’s decision and is focusing on moving forward, noting that “you have to live with the decisions that were made.” He said that a museum would be an acceptable reuse of the church.

“We’re still, and always have been, negotiating with the Northside Leadership Conference,” said Father Whalen, but noted they are “keeping all legal options open” as well.

The old church sits along Route 28, where it was once the center of Pittsburgh’s Croatian community on the Northside. It became an historic landmark at the request of several parishioners in 2001, but was vacated in 2004, when the church moved to Millvale due to dwindling size of the parish. The church cannot be demolished because it is still listed as an historic landmark.

Initially when Whalen took the position, he said he hoped to make a profit for the parish by selling the old church, but that is no longer the case.

“At this point, I’m just trying to stop the financial bleeding,” he said. He estimates that maintaining the church costs the 225 member parish about $1,800 a month.

Under the current general sales agreement states the two organizations are discussing, the NSLC would purchase the church for $1, contingent on a geotechnical study of the hillside where the church sits.

“Part of the problem is that everything has always been contingent on other things,” said Whalen regarding the hillside study.

Once a sales agreement is signed, engineers can begin the study, which will be paid for by the Preserve Croatian Heritage Foundation. If the hillside is stable, the NSLC will purchase the property.

The NSLC estimates that the study could take 6-9 months, and is heavily dependent on weather.

“It’s a continuing saga,” Whalen said. “Stay tuned.”