Between 100 and 120 blighted buildings – both residential and commercial – are now being torn down every year in Johnstown.
The work – a combined effort among the city, Johnstown Redevelopment Authority and Community Foundation for the Alleghenies, along with other nonprofits and governmental organizations – has dropped the number of unsightly and unsafe structures from well over 1,000 to a current estimate of 700, although no comprehensive database exists to provide an exact number.
“Each year we see an improvement in blight elimination in the city,” JRA Executive Director Melissa Komar said. “At first the pace was slow, but over the past 24 months the rate of demolitions has increased tremendously.
“Eliminating the structure is the first step, putting the land back into reuse is the next step. We are always working on both of these steps simultaneously.”
The city will end up doing $400,000 worth of demolition work this year, including spending more than $160,000 to knock down the Conrad Building, a historic – but deteriorated – century-old landmark in downtown, according to Johnstown Community and Economic Development Director John Dubnansky.
Separate private money has also been used to fund the demolition work.
Since 2018, private donors – through the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies as a facilitator – have contributed $1.3 million toward blight elimination in Johnstown.
“The Community Foundation is really pleased to be able to support the efforts of the redevelopment authority and others in what’s been really significant blight eradication,” CFA President Mike Kane said. “That’s happened because of the work that they’re doing and because we’ve had some donors that are supportive of these efforts.”
The foundation, authority and city have concentrated on eliminating blight along Johnstown’s main corridors, including Franklin Street, Route 56 in the West End and now William Penn Avenue in Prospect. Work has also been done in neighborhoods, including recently Old Conemaugh Borough.
Komar said 85 structures and counting have been demolished in the past two years thanks to CFA funds.
“Years ago it was realized that government money alone would never be able to eliminate all of the blight in our city and because of that, private donors have led the way in 2019 and 2020,” Komar said. “The Community Foundation for the Alleghenies has served as a conduit for these donors to connect with us on demolition projects and begin the implementation process. We can now say that we are winning the blight fight, and you can see that in almost every ward of the city.”
Plans are moving forward for more demolition in 2021.
One property being considered is the former King Furniture that would cost approximately $80,000 to raze, compared to about $9,000 for a residential structure, according to Dubnansky.
“We’re in that constant dilemma,” Dubnansky said. “What do you do? Do you take down seven or eight residential buildings or do you take down that one commercial building.
“Those are things that we weigh out and prioritize here on a regular basis.”