Diocese poised to sell St. Nick’s to Lamar Advertising

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Plans to transform St. Nicholas Church along Route 28 in Troy Hill into an immigration museum may get more complicated if the Pittsburgh Diocese decides to sell the property to Lamar Advertising.

According to a diocese press release, it has a sales agreement with Lamar for the property, but has not yet closed on the deal. Lamar could not be reached in time for comment, but the press release said Lamar planned to erect billboards on the property.

The Preserve Croatian Heritage Foundation recently completed a feasibility study on the museum concept and will, along with the Northside Leadership Conference acting as project manager, present the findings on Friday at 10 a.m. in the Penn Brewery.

St. Nick’s was the first Croatian parish in the country, but the Millvale Parish, which owns the property, closed the building in December 2004.

“It’s a great building to tell the story,” NSLC’s Executive Director Mark Fatla said. “This Croatian community put everything into building this religious and cultural center … [All immigrant groups] migrate here and focus on [their] religious and cultural center.”

The Foundation worked with the Conference on finding a viable use for the building. Because the Croatian experience is representative of the immigrant experience in general, the immigration museum seemed an excellent fit, and the feasibility study showed that a museum at St. Nick’s could work.

Fatla said the diocese was aware of the feasibility study and its positive outcome, and that the Foundation and Conference were interested in acquiring the site.

Now, Fatla plans to schedule a meeting with Lamar to discuss both groups’ plans for the property, and is optimistic about the museum’s chances. He said he’s already spoken with Lamar and had a positive first conversation.

After the presentation on Friday, Fatla said the next step would be to see if the community will support the process. “These kinds of projects are very difficult; they take a lot of funding.”

If things work out in the proposed museum’s favor, Fatla said an opening would probably be five years away, as it will take time to raise the necessary funds and completely renovate the inside of the building.

“It’s not like you can put in a bathroom and open,” he said.

If things do not work out, the Conference and Foundation may consider looking at other sites for the museum. But for now, Fatla said they are focused on acquiring the church because of its importance in the immigrant story.

Check www.thenorthsidechronicle.com next Tuesday for an update on this story.

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