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Judge Allows for Demolition of St. Nick's Church

An Allegheny County judge has allowed for St. Nicholas Parish to demolish its historic church on Route 28 in the North Side.

On Monday, Common Pleas Judge Robert Colville ordered the Pittsburgh Historic Review Commission to grant the parish a "certificate of economic hardship" within 30 days. That document would allow the parish to bypass the deteriorating church's historic status and proceed with plans for demolition.

However, the city still has the option to appeal Judge Colville's decision.

Mark Fatla, Executive Director of the Northside Leadership Conference, said he expects the city to appeal. The conference wants to buy the century-old church from the parish and transform it into an immigration museum.

"It's about a $10 million project, projected to draw 50,000 visitors a year," said Fatla. "It would include a trail connection that would stretch from the base of Troy Hill and the neighborhood of East Deutschtown, across from Penn Brewery, would stretch all the way to the 31st Street Bridge, creating a new trail link as well."

However, that position was criticized by Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh spokesman Father Ronald Lengwin.

"They've talked about this for a couple of decades, in terms of how this church might be used, and they've not been able to find any financing for that property," said Lengwin.

A Crumbling House of Worship

The building is structurally weak, according to Lengwin. He said travelers on Route 28 can see the proof of that as they drive past the vacant church.

"There are huge cracks on the one side of the building, and inside, of course, moisture does all kinds of damage to a church building," said Lengwin. "There is pressure on the back of the buildings there, from the hillside that is moving."

However, Fatla, of the Northside Leadership Conference, said his group hopes to conduct a study to determine if the hillside really is a threat to the church and the rectory. If so, Fatla said the NLC would drop its opposition to demolition.

It's a common misconception, said Fatla, to believe that the church must be destroyed for the Route 28 expansion. He said PennDOT found a way around that issue "years ago."

Another misconception, according to Father Lengwin, is that the church in the North Side contains historic murals; rather, those paintings are in the St. Nicholas Church in Millvale.