Former brewery complex destroyed in Jeannette, the “last big chunk” of the reconstruction of the city
December 19 â Bob and Lola Barton see the decrepit remains of the old Fort Pitt brewery every time they leave the house.
Couple West Jeannette said the crumbling red brick complex attracted rodents and disruptive children who threw stones from the roof. The Bartons have lived on 11th Street for about 25 years. They remember when companies operating in buildings were kicked out by a new owner.
Since then, it’s been nothing but a nuisance – a gigantic structure left to rot on the edge of a neighborhood that so many families call home.
âThey have to do something with it,â said Bob Barton. “It’s a shame that this building has become like this because I’m sure at some point it would have been a good landmark.”
Lola Barton agrees: “It should have been withdrawn a long time ago.”
It’s a familiar scene with Jeannette.
A huge building where people once made a living is now a playground for vagrants and a drag on the city’s resources. Property issues hamper progress in restoring property to the tax roll, resulting in the spending of large sums of public money to acquire and demolish buildings.
Similar stories unfolded at the former Monsour Medical Center and the former Jeannette Glass Factory. Brewery buildings, nestled between Penn Avenue and Clay
Avenue Extension, could be a sequel – as well as another opportunity. The revitalization of the site, a stone’s throw from Jeannette Industrial Park, could be a key part of helping the city build on its recent progress, said Nathan Bish, city clerk.
âThis is really the last big chunk, so we can start trying to rebuild a better image,â he said.
Rufus Corp. de Frank Trigona bought the defunct Fort Pitt Brewery property in 2002. He passed away in 2015, leaving behind 20 vacant plots in Jeannette. The executor – who has also since died – said at the time that the businessman’s estate had no way of paying the overdue taxes, which date back to 2005 and now total around $ 330,000 on the property of the brewery.
The multi-building complex has “gradually deteriorated” over the past few years, said Fire Chief Bill Frye. Openings to the interior show fallen bricks, spray paint, and old tires. Broken windows can be seen on Penn Avenue. Several doors are open or broken. Much of a back wall has collapsed and parts of several roofs are missing, including on a building that is only separated from the houses by an alleyway.
The size of the complex makes it impossible to secure, making it a target for vandals, Frye said.
A nearby resident, Conway Hemminger, said the children played inside every day after school and that he feared someone might get hurt. He realizes that the cost of clearing the land and the lack of funding are hampering progress.
“This building is damaging a lot of property around here,” he said.
A suspicious fire in July 2017 caused further damage. Then, part of a single-story building the size of a football field caught fire, causing a partial collapse and a ruptured water pipe that inundated several houses.
âThere is no one to be held responsible,â Frye said. “My biggest worry now is collapsing and hurting someone inside.”
‘Must be addressed’
Westmoreland County Industrial Development Corp. intervened in similar situations at the former Jeannette Glass and Monsour Medical Center properties. The buildings of both had become dangerous horrors. Public money has been used in recent years to acquire properties, demolish abandoned structures and prepare them for redevelopment.
The old Jeannette Glass site has since been replaced by the new Elliott Group cryodynamic testing facility. Grass has grown at the old medical site along Route 30, although development plans have not been announced.
It would cost at least $ 1 million to demolish the old brewery and prepare the property for redevelopment, estimated Jason Rigone, director of WCIDC. County officials are aware of the problem, but other projects are currently a priority, he said.
âThese kinds of projects are definitely the one that needs to be tackled,â Rigone said.
The burn can cause many potential ripple effects on a community, ranging from declining property values ââto diminishing learning abilities of younger neighbors, said Joe Schilling, senior policy and research associate at Urban Institute in Washington, DC He worked with officials in Memphis six years ago on creating a charter that helped anti-scourge groups work together.
These types of partnerships are “the only way to solve a complex problem like vacant and dilapidated properties,” he said. “The local government cannot do it on its own.”
Members of the Memphis Charter continue to come together and have a regular summit to honor those who have made a difference and find ways to keep moving forward, Schilling said. The charter process is one that has been adapted from similar projects elsewhere such as Cleveland, where the Vacant and Abandoned Property Action Council still meets regularly after its creation in 2005, he said.
âIt’s really a community issue, and the cost of doing nothing means you have impacts on a particular neighborhood and those impacts kind of trickle down,â he said.
For places like New Kensington and Wilkinsburg, creative approaches have erased the scourge through concerted efforts and partnerships.
The Corridor of Innovation in New Kensington, which encompasses five blocks on Fifth Avenue, began with the hope that the movement there would spread elsewhere in the city, said Sarah Snider, who volunteered in as a coordinator when the project was in its infancy. The corridor made its official public debut in 2017. Now, business owners and other community leaders have continued to carry the torch as new stores, restaurants, medical complexes and even a park line the street.
âIt’s the coming together of all the different partners that really gives you the power and the strength to start seeing him climb that mountain to success,â she said.
While there is still work to be done, it absolutely could be replicated in other communities, Snider said.
The Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation has improved the quality of housing in Wilkinsburg through several multi-million dollar residential historic restoration projects over the past 15 years with the help of public and private funding as well as tax credits. Development and communications director Karamagi Rujumba said the projects had invigorated communities in a way that did not displace residents.
â(Blight) is a self-fulfilling cycle,â he said. “The scourge causes a loss of confidence, a loss of investment in the community. It creates opportunities for crime and a lack of security.”
History of the brewery
There was a time when the brewery buildings flourished.
Victor Brewing Co. was organized on the site in 1907, with the capacity to produce up to 150,000 barrels of beer, making it one of the largest operations in the region, according to press accounts. It operated until Prohibition in 1920, employing around 350 people.
The company resumed operations when Prohibition ended in 1933, but went bankrupt in 1941. It was bought that year by Sharpsburg-based Fort Pitt Brewing for $ 350,000, according to press reports. .
Fort Pitt continued to brew at the factory until 1955. It consisted of 15 buildings on 6 acres – a three-story bottling building, a six-story brewery, a garage, a warehouse, a loading dock. and other structures.
In 1956, the owner was considering other uses for the site and later sold much of the brewing equipment for $ 500,000 to a Mexican company. The following year, the property was sold to Fidelity Trust Co. for $ 125,000, according to the deeds. Papercraft Corp. y expanded its gift packaging manufacturing activities from its head office in Pittsburgh. The Jeannette factory continued its activities until the mid-1970s, then was put on hold for several years.
In the late 1980s, the property was sold to Laurel Mold for $ 226,000, according to a deed. The company produced plastic food containers and employed around 160 people. It is not known when production ceased.
The property was sold in a 2001 Sheriff Sale for $ 58,820 to First Union Small Business Capital.
It last changed hands a year later when Rufus Corp. de Trigona bought it.
‘That would be a wow’
The property makes its way through the judicial sale system. City officials said it could be a potentially valuable location that is being considered for inclusion in a tax incentive program. Officials are working to create local economic revitalization tax assistance designations across the city with the goal of stimulating investment by providing a tax rebate for property improvements.
Mayor Curtis Antoniak said he believes it could ultimately help a developer undertake a project that is not affordable for the city.
âThis property, if it was developed, it would be a wow,â he said. “I am very worried that he is starting to fall.”
City and county leaders agree it needs to come down, but when and how the big questions remain.
“It’s just a matter of opening up capacity and finding funding,” said Rigone. “It’s going to take a proactive approach to fix it.”
Renatta Signorini is a writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Renatta at 724-837-5374, [email protected] or via Twitter.