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Local community shares thoughts on empty Main St. land

Kevin Accettulla, Rocket Contributor

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The new Slippery Rock Borough Council is beginning to consider options for the land where the First National Bank building once stood at the corner of Main Street and Franklin Street, after canceling the previous council’s plans in January.

Slippery Rock Mayor, Jondavid Longo, would like to have the curb cut back for a right turning lane at the intersection.

“I’m glad we halted the last phase of the project,” Longo said. “It was a terribly expensive renovation for a corner into which, ultimately, PennDOT would have to cut into for a new turning lane.”

Longo also said the lane is expected to arrive within the next few years.

Longo and council member, Itzi Metzli, are both in favor of reselling the remaining land after the installation of a turning lane.

“That site is prime real estate in the heart of Slippery Rock and has great commercial potential,” Longo said. “Not only could we add the property back to the tax roll but also invite new businesses and employment opportunities for our citizens.”

Metzli agreed with Longo and said he favors “putting the remaining land back up for sale” to pay off the remaining loan balance.

Metzli said because Franklin Street (Route 108) is a state road, PennDOT should pay for the cost of the turning lane.

Known as the Gateway Park Project, it began back in 2016. The original plan for the project was to purchase the land on the corner of Main Street and Franklin Street from First National Bank. The current parking lot behind the bank was owned by First National Bank, and it allowed the public to use it. The previous council wanted to ensure that the Borough of Slippery Rock didn’t lose those parking spaces for the community if the bank sold its land to a private company that might not allow the public to utilize those spaces. According to documents obtained from the borough, the land was purchased on Aug. 3, 2016, for $250,000.

In November 2016, then-citizen, and now-council member, Itzi Metzli began to get suspicious, after previous council president, Regina Greenwald, applied for a USDA grant for $722,819, which he says was done behind everyone’s back.

“I thought…these people have something more planned,” Metzli said.

Greenwald, who was not re-elected to council in the 2017 elections, said council properly filled out all the paperwork for the grant, and that it took about a year and a half to complete. She said getting a bank loan was much faster and more reasonable because one stipulation of the grant was that council must also look for other loans.

“Council doesn’t have to discuss all finances in public, because some things might not pan out,” Greenwald said. “You wait until you have something to tell the public, because speculation to the public causes panic.”

The previous council wanted to tear the bank building down and put in a “parklet,” including benches, landscaping and 21 more parking spaces, for an additional cost of about $275,000, according to the bidding documents. This cost is in addition to the $250,000 spent to purchase the property and the $99,320.25 for the demolition, which was contracted out to Minniefield Construction, of Pittsburgh, according to the Notice of Award documents.

After the USDA loan fell through due to the council’s turnover rate, the council took out a $750,000 loan from First National Bank to pay back the previous $450,000 loan taken out to purchase and demolish the building, according to Metzli. The council wanted the extra $300,000 for the final phase of the project: the “parklet.”

Metzli ran in 2017 for borough council along with Russel Karl and Gene Allison, and Jondavid R. Longo ran for Mayor to do something about this project, said Metzli.

“We can’t be wasting money,” Metzli said.

All four won their positions. Leading up to their swearing-in, they did everything they could to stop the previous council from proceeding with the final landscaping portion of the project. The previous council didn’t listen, and accepted a bid and signed a contract with McElroy Paving Co. Inc., of McCandless, for $274,714.20, according to bidding documents. Included in the cost was the base bid, at $148,445, Gateway Park, at $94,467, installation of surface mount benches, at $6,750, sculpture relocation, at $6,525, landscaping, at $16,327, and irrigation, at $2,200, according to the Notice of Award issued on November 16, 2017.

“Past council did not listen to the taxpayers,” Councilman Gene Allison said.

The new council has since canceled the third phase of the project, and has decided to plant grass on the land for now, but, the council may now be in a legal bind for breach of contract, because they canceled a contract that the previous council already signed.

“Majority of the council has agreed to stop the project because that is what the taxpayers wanted,” Allison said. “[Past council] tried to rush through the process, not being prudent with taxpayer dollars.”

As for now, the borough will be paying back the loan on a 20-year plan at a cost of $48,000 a year, for the first seven years, and then a fluctuating rate of between $48,000 and $60,000 for years eight to 20, according to Metzli. He hopes to have it paid off in 10 years.

The Slippery Rock Borough Council asked the public for its ideas on what to do with the former bank lot at its meeting on Tuesday, March 6, at 7 p.m., at the Borough Building.

This article was originally written for Dr. Harry’s Advanced Writing and Reporting class.

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Local community shares thoughts on empty Main St. land