If you promise to fix up a vacant building, the City of Monessen will forgive all of the back taxes. It’s a new program with an aim to bring back a struggling mill town.
STACY SMITH: It is a new program that is designed to try to bring back a struggling mill town. If you promise to fix up a vacant building, the city of Monessen will forgive the back taxes. It is meant to restore blighted areas, but can it work? Andy Sheehan joins us live now this evening to explain. Andy?
ANDY SHEEHAN: Stacy, Monessen has lost more than half of its population over the past few decades, leaving hundreds of abandoned buildings and houses. Now the city wants to bring them back one building at a time. It's been hard times here in this town for decades now. The mill is gone, and the coke works is on idle, leaving a blighted downtown of boarded up stores and sprawling neighborhoods of abandoned houses.
MATT SHORRAW: This orange brick house over here has about $40,000 in back taxes on it.
ANDY SHEEHAN: With 400 abandoned properties and more than 800 more tax delinquent, Mayor Matt Shorraw had an idea-- sell the properties at next to nothing. And if the new owner commits to fixing them up, the city would forgive those back taxes and ask the school district and the county to do the same.
MATT SHORRAW: We've accepted that we're not going to see that tax money again. We would rather see these houses fixed and get them back on the tax rolls for the future.
ANDY SHEEHAN: So this is an old pawnshop?
MARK FRANGIPANI: This is an old pawnshop.
ANDY SHEEHAN: The program is already gaining some traction. Mark Frangipani has taken ownership of this pawn shop, which has been abandoned since 2009. He's planning to renovate and live in the upstairs and restore the storefront for himself or a tenant.
MARK FRANGIPANI: If you're looking for an opportunity or maybe you want to start a bakery or a coffee shop, you can actually afford to do that here in Monessen.
ANDY SHEEHAN: And the initial publicity has garnered some interest out of town and even out of state, real estate investors and developers enticed by the prospect of getting houses and buildings for a song.
MATT SHORRAW: We've had people as far as Orlando, Florida being interested in property. So as long as they commit to fixing them, we're open to having them here.
ANDY SHEEHAN: But in truth, the city has a long, long way to go. There is no shortage of abandoned buildings here, and the city can only hope to start moving in the right direction one building at a time. Reporting live in Monessen, Andy Sheehan, KDKA News.