NORTHERN CAMBRIA – A bid from a local nonemergency transporting company was awarded Monday for the former site of a shirt factory in Northern Cambria.
At a regular Northern Cambria Borough Council meeting Monday night, three bids were opened for the property, including one for $20,000 from Patrick McMullen, $30,000 from Hope Fire Company and $47,000 from Med-Van Transport.
The former Phillip and Jones Van Heusen shirt factory along Maple Avenue was torn down in March by Steel Valley Contractors of Youngstown, Ohio, thanks to a partnership between Northern Cambria Borough and the Cambria County Redevelopment Authority.
Since 2004, the factory sat vacant as community officials worked to find funding to bring the building down.
The demolition, which cost more than $100,000, was paid for through $25,000 from the county redevelopment authority, making it the biggest blight removal cost that’s been covered by a demolition fund created two years ago when county officials enacted Act 152, which allows for a $15 fee on deeds and mortgages filed in Cambria County.
Northern Cambria Borough, which owns the property, contributed the remaining funding for the demolition using capital improvement funds.
Councilman Wilbur Kelly made the motion to accept the bid from Med-Van Transport, but that motion failed.
Kelly blamed the borough’s previous council for purchasing the property in the first place.
“The borough doesn’t belong in the real estate business with taxpayer money,” he said. “The borough can’t even take care of what they have.”
Councilman James Rocco asked if the land would be more valuable to the borough than accepting a bid that’s about half of what the borough contributed to demolish the old factory. He disagreed with Kelly, saying the factory became dangerous, which obligated the borough to buy it.
“It’s our job to clean up the town sometimes,” he said.
Kelly pointed out that Med-Van Transport’s bid is $7,000 more than the property was appraised for.
After discussion, Kelly made another motion to accept Med-Van Transport’s bid, which was seconded by Councilwoman Lisa Tomallo Mays.
Although Rocco felt the borough should have pursued higher bids, he voted along with Kelly and Mays. Councilman Charlie Caltagarone and Council President Donald Ferguson voted against awarding the bid to Med-Van Transport.
Several members of the public who attended Monday’s meeting questioned Kelly’s ethics in making a motion to award the bid to Med-Van Transport, which is also his employer. Kelly was wearing a company uniform during the meeting.
Borough Solicitor Tim Burns said Kelly’s vote did not financially benefit him or his employer, which does not present any legal or ethical violations.
Borough Manager Claudine Nagle noted that awarding the bid to Med-Van Transport will put the property back into taxation.
The factory was built in 1930 to accommodate a growing textile and garment industry, with as many as 250 to 300 people employed there in the 1960s and ’70s.
That number dropped to 100 or 125 employees in the 1990s, when the plant was sold to a private owner, who eventually closed the plant in 2002.
Since then, local officials have advocated for any efforts to spruce up the property and keep children away from the dangerous structure.
In 2016, Northern Cambria Community Development Corp. took on efforts to use grant funding to cover the costs of demolishing the deteriorating building and turn the site into a recreational space, but those plans never came to fruition.
In December, the building started protruding into a roadway near the site, causing borough officials to close that street indefinitely.
Council also voted unanimously to appoint Mays, who abstained, to the borough’s vacant mayor position for a term ending in December. The remaining two-year term will be placed on November’s ballot.