We applaud efforts to restore Somerset’s historic Schell House, and also the plan to finally turn around the fortunes of Johnstown’s Conrad Building.
This is an exciting tale of two buildings, one well into its restoration and the other an eyesore and safety hazard with the hope for better days ahead.
A nearly $2 million federal grant has been approved for the Johnstown structure, which has been in and out of the news since 2006, when a portion of its rear roof fell off and landed in the Stonycreek River.
The Conrad Building on Franklin Street will need more work than that grant will support. But those involved also have their eyes on state funding.
We would urge them to find as much private funding as possible to ease the impact for taxpayers, even as the structure moves toward renewal and use by Cambria-Rowe Business College for its digital development programs.
“The Conrad, I think, is a great launching pad for the people to start careers,” Cambria-Rowe CEO Mike Artim said.
The building’s recent history has seen it serve more as a launching pad for skepticism and controversy.
The site has seen multiple business ventures spring up amid promise and slip away without making any improvements. At one point, the city threatened legal action against its own solicitor, who owned the Conrad, and then condemned the structure.
We see reason for optimism this time around, as a coalition has formed to chart a course of action.
The team includes Southern Alleghenies Planning and Development Commission, Community Foundation for the Alleghenies, Johnstown Business District Development Corp., the city, and elected officials as well as Cambria-Rowe.
Artim said Cambria-Rowe would lease the space from the JBDDC, which has an option to buy the Conrad.
“This is wonderful news for our community,” said Community Foundation president Mike Kane.
We agree, and we say the same for the Somerset project.
The Schell House, on East Main Street, dates to the late 1800s.
Somerset Trust Co. owns the building, built by banker and attorney Henry F. Schell, and has some staff stationed there.
The building’s exterior was remodeled this summer, and a new roof is on the way.
Once the exterior work is completed, designers and workers will look to give the house an interior makeover as well.
Already, the house provides an attractive and welcoming spot for those heading to “uptown” Somerset.
“It makes a big difference when you’re driving into town,” Somerset Trust Senior Vice President Andrew Cook said.
We see a similar opportunity for the Conrad Building in Johnstown – a gateway to the downtown and a project that should spur additional economic development in the city.
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