Vacated Monongahela building may prove an economic catalyst

by Dave Zuchowski
Observer Reporter

For nearly four months, a large building at 211 W. Main St. in Monongahela has stood vacant. Following its purchase by the Monongahela Area Chamber of Commerce, the building is expected to play a major role in the city’s economic growth.

Once the site of a McCrory’s department store and most recently occupied by Finishing Touch Flooring, the three-story building is expected to house offices, tenants and a business incubator after an extensive renovation.

In partnership with the Mon Valley Alliance, which guaranteed the loan from Community Bank, the chamber closed on the building Dec. 28. EQT Corp. donated $15,000 toward the purchase price of $60,000, with another donor who wishes to remain anonymous contributing an additional $5,000.

As a result of EQT’s contribution to purchase the building, the chamber plans to name the community room after the corporation.

Before the 10,000-square-foot building opens, the plan is to renovate the structure, perhaps beginning as early as April. Estimates peg the cost of the renovations at between $100,000 and $300,000, depending on the bidding process, how much is done now and how much is done down the road.

Chamber President Tony Bottino said the renovations will be made a floor at a time, beginning with the first floor, which will eventually house the chamber office as well as other tenants, including at least a part of the business incubator.

“The first floor is an open area and most of the renovation is a matter of subdividing it,” Bottino said. “However, the front of the building needs some TLC because the facade is not very attractive at the moment.”

According to Bottino, the overall cost of the renovations is hard to estimate. He said the first-floor revamp could run between $50,000 and $100,000, but after adding in renovations to the facade, the second floor and basement, the final cost could get much higher.

“The third floor, which isn’t very large, will be renovated last,” he said.

A news conference/kickoff meeting is scheduled from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Tuesday in the newly purchased building.

Already Bottino has met with representatives from the Mon Valley Alliance, which will be involved in financing the renovations, and talked to a couple of potential tenants.

“Our involvement is to support the chamber’s mission and participate in any way we can to facilitate the business incubator,” said Alliance Chief Executive Officer Christopher Whitlatsch.

The Alliance, whose goal is to develop the economy, community and workforce of the mid-Mon Valley, started an Entrepreneurship and Incubation Fund in January 2017 to support small and start-up businesses in the mid-Mon Valley.

“I think the newly purchased building is in a key block of Monongahela and I’m excited that the chamber was able to purchase it,” Whitlatsch said. “I see it as a catalyst to grow Monongahela and think it will become a model for other communities do to something similar.”

Bottino agrees, saying the building can contribute to an upsurge in property values in the downtown area and provide a venue via the business incubator for those business owners interesting in locating in town.

“As a town located along the river, Monongahela is doing very well,” he said. “We have a strong and active chamber of commerce, which has wanted to do a Main Street project for quite some time. While we do a lot of different things, the building is one of our biggest projects.”

“We’ve already surpassed several of our goals and want to become a ‘supertown’ for residents and businesses as well as become a model for others. We’re now ready to make even bigger strides.”