Fences have gone up, heavy machinery has moved in and blighted properties are coming down in Washington’s primary business district.
Long-awaited demolition has begun on a stretch of storefronts at the nexus of North Main and West Chestnut streets. Actually, it is one parcel encompassing two buildings: one featuring the addresses of 93 to 95 North Main, the other around the corner at 8 through 22 West Chestnut.
“This will remove the blighting influence that has keep people from coming to town to shop or rent,” said Rob Phillips, assistant community development director for the Washington County Redevelopment Authority, which has been working with city government on this project.
“These buildings have been vacant for a lot of years, an eyesore,” he added. “The city has prioritized this. Demolition is a last resort, but in this case it’s the only option. The roof has collapsed.”
That parcel, with multiple storefronts, was condemned a year or so ago. Phillips identified Mark Albert Smith as the owner of both buildings.
The project, however, does not include the structure at 15 N. Main that partially collapsed in 2017, trapping a woman for 10 hours.
Demolition, including asbestos removal, began last weekend, and the building on West Chestnut is down, Phillips said Thursday. He estimated that phase should take “a week or so,” with restoration ending two to three months afterward.
That parcel “needed to come down for a long time,” Washington Mayor Scott Putnam said, explaining that identifying the owner, scheduling hearings, hiring project managers and lining up funding is a tedious process.
The razing of another nearby structure could be ahead, too. A building on West Chestnut is in disrepair, between the corner building on North Main and Shorty’s restaurant – and may have to be toppled at some point. Phillips said Washington’s Citywide Development Corp. owns that building.
He pegged the cost of the project at $244,120, which will be covered by funding from Washington County’s Local Share Account. The city is using the $300,000 it received from the 2019 LSA disbursement to be used for demolition activities, including this project.
Christy Rowing realizes this project has taken awhile to unfold, but is gratified that is progressing. Rowing, executive director of the CDC, said in a statement: “We appreciate the stakeholders of Washington for their patience as we all worked through the funding and due diligence of this long-overdue project.
“We know that this will not only change the physical streetscape of Washington, but also the community’s pride in Main Street.”
Rebuilding this part of the business district could be a major boost to the city, and complement the revival that has taken place along South Main during the past decade.
Shana Brown, the city’s fairly new Main Street manager, is excited about the possibilities that could unfold.
“We have a lot of great things happening in Washington, which could vault us further into renovation,” she said. “There are a few other properties in town where we should see changes.”
Brown said two new city businesses will have grand openings this week: The Nutrition Fix, on South Main near West Maiden Street, and Cloud Nine Nail Bar, on East Wheeling Street. And Upper Crust, a once-popular restaurant at South Main and West Maiden St., is targeted to reopen in the city this fall, at the corner of Beau Street and North Main.
“The big thing is for people to keep supporting businesses,” Brown said.
EADS Group of North Huntingdon, Westmoreland County, is being paid $219,000 as engineer of this project. BJC Enterprises inc. of Monroeville will receive $25,120 to clear the site and back fill once that work is done.
Once all of that happens, visions of a more modern downtown may materialize.
“We hope someone looks at this as a potential development site,” Phillips said.
“There will be some headaches, like with any project,” Putnam said, “but this will be a better visual for the city of Washington.”