Above: St. Nicholas is a visible landmark and located along Route 28. (Photo by Blaine Zehmisch).
After denial after denial in court, the hotly contested St. Nicholas church building that stands vacant along Route 28 may be demolished after all.
On July 19, Allegheny County Common Pleas Court Judge Robert Colville ordered the Pittsburgh Historic Review Commission to issue to the parish a Certificate of Economic Hardship that will allow the parish to apply for a demolition permit.
The parish, which is now located in a historic church in Millvale, has been working to rid themselves of the old maintiained, which they’ve maintained since 2004.
In September of 2011, The Pittsburgh Historic Review Commission denied the St. Nicholas Parish a permit to demolish the building.
Soon after, the church filed for economic hardship which was also denied by the Historic Review Commission in December of 2011.
The plea for economic hardship was filed on the basis that the Northside building has cost $370,000 since 2004 when the building closed, and St. Nicholas’ priest Father Whalen estimates that currently 20 to 25 percent of offertory funds go to maintaining the old church.
In an editorial that ran on July 24 in Pittsburgh Catholic, the Catholic Church described the building as “barely standing” and “an increased economic liability that threatened the very existence of the parish [in Millvale].”
“The City would be foolish to allow this to go on any longer,” read the editorial. “This has stretched out far too many years already to the serious detriment of St. Nicholas Parish, the Croatian community and to the people of Southwest Pennsylvania. Judge Colville wisely understood all this and St. Nicholas Parish can hopefully proceed soon with the demolition of this building that has been a dangerous blight on the city landscape for far too long.
Despite the church’s firm stance that the church should be demolished, others in the community are fighting for the preservation or the historic church, and the City may still throw Judge Colville’s order out.
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 run 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 to the Northside.
NSLC Executive Director Mark Fatla believes that the City should appeal the ruling and uphold the decision of its own committee.
“We’re strongly opposing this,” said Fatla who believes the reuse of the property will benefit the Northside.
The NSLC has offered the church $1 for the building and to take on any liabilities that come with it. According to the NSLC, they have received no answer to their offer.