St Nicholas Report
The Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh issued a Press Release on Jan 8 announcing the start of demolition of the historic former St Nicholas Church along Rt 28. NSLC's role largely ceased after the City withdrew its appeal on the historic review issues in Oct 2012, but the release contains several factual misstatements, necessitating this response to clarify the public record.
The Diocese claims that the parish has spent funds for maintenance of the closed building. The parish abandoned this building years ago, made no effort to maintain or secure it, and even refused to prosecute vandals caught red-handed by Pittsburgh Police in the act of burglarizing the buildings. The only efforts in the past 5 years to protect the buildings were taken by Preserve Croatian Heritage Foundation at their sole expense. The parish also refused offers to install and pay for a security system at no cost to the parish.
The Diocese claims that the parish spent $360,000 in maintenance and insurance over the past 8 years. The Diocese failed to provide proper documentation of these expenses before the Pittsburgh Historic Review Commission. In any event, the Diocese is self-insured, so any insurance assessments were paid by the parish to the diocese, moving money from one Diocesan pocket to the other. Furthermore, testimony before the HRC revealed that the Diocese assessed St Nicholas Millvale in amounts far in excess of the assessments paid by other parishes for other vacant buildings, a fact which the Diocese failed to rebut.
The Diocese claims that the parish attempted to sell the building. The parish NEVER listed or advertised the property for sale, making no effort to market the property. A succession of potential purchasers made offers over the past 8 years but were all met with patently outrageous demands, demands that had no relation to canon law. Most recently the Diocese demanded from NSLC a right to receive additional payments for the building 20 years in the future (AFTER we had invested $10 million in a museum project) in the event the site was taken for additional widening of the road. This provision was not only unreasonable, it had the effect of making financing of a museum re-use impossible.
The Diocese suggests that potential buyers were "unwilling to assume liability for a failing structure." None of the potential buyers, including the Northside Leadership Conference, expressed any concern with the condition of the buildings. NSLC conditioned its offer to purchase on a geo-technical study of the hillside and retaining wall, a study that NSLC and its partners would pay for. If the study was positive, NSLC would complete the acquisition. If the study showed a problem, NSLC agreed to withdraw its opposition to demolition of the church. In either event the parish's ongoing costs would have been eliminated. The Diocese refused this offer.
The Diocese cites the "unwillingness of buyers to...comply with canonical regulations concerning the use of former church buildings." The only canonical restriction identified by the Diocese was the use of alcohol in the former sanctuary, a restriction NSLC specifically committed to in a written purchase offer. The Diocese attempted to extend that prohibition to the church's hall which had traditionally hosted parish events including alcohol, and to new construction to be built on the site to host weddings and events. These restrictions had no relation to canon law but severely undermined the economic re-use of the property.
The Diocese suggests, without any basis in fact, that historic designation of the structure by the City of Pittsburgh inhibited the property's marketability. To the contrary, every interested buyer was drawn to the property BY the historic structures. Historic designation was an asset that the Diocese refused to acknowledge, market or exploit.
The Diocese cites a report from an engineer that it hired, suggesting that the building was structurally unsound. The Northside Leadership Conference presented an engineer, an architect, a contractor and two real estate development professionals who found no structural difficulties with the structure and no danger to the public. the Historic Review Commission considered all this evidence and rejected the report of the Diocese' engineer.
The Diocese states that "no other report was prepared by a state-licensed engineer." NSLC presented the report and testimony of John Menniti, whose website identified him as a "registered Professional Engineer in PA and WV." Furthermore, Mr Menniti testified before the HRC and submitted a written report. The Diocese chose not to present its engineer to testify so he could not be questioned.
The Diocese asserts that the building has "threatened public safety." Five experts countered this opinion and the HRC rejected it. No threat to the public from the property was ever identified by City Building inspection Department, the City Police or PENNDOT, and no restrictions on Rt 28 traffic have ever been instituted to protect the public from the structure. The only threat has come from the Diocese steadfast refusal to maintain its property.
And finally, according to today's new reports, the URA recently offered to purchase the property for $300,000. The Diocese led them to believe that would be sufficient to close the deal. Instead, the Diocese turned the offer down and announced demolition.
The long history of this matter has been replete with misstatements of facts by the Diocese of Pittsburgh. It is only fitting, though most disheartening, that this chapter end with another litany of inaccuracies.
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