By Andy Sheehan

MONESSEN, Pa. (KDKA) – If you promise to fix up a vacant building, the City of Monessen will forgive all of the back taxes. It’s a new program with an aim to bring back a struggling mill town.

The city has lost more than half its population over the last few decades, leaving a lot of abandoned houses and buildings. But now it wants to bring them back, one building at a time. 

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It’s been hard times in Monessen for four decades now. The mill is gone and the coke works is on idle, leaving a blighted downtown of boarded-up stores and sprawling neighborhoods of abandoned houses.

Mayor Matt Shorraw pointed to one orange brick house with about $40,000 worth of back taxes on it.

With 400 abandon properties and more than 800 more tax delinquent, Mayor Matt Shorraw had an idea: sell the properties for next to nothing and if the new owner commits to fixing them up, the city would forgive those back taxes and ask the school district and county to do the same.

“We’ve accepted that we’re not going to see the tax money again. We would rather see these houses fixed and get them back on the tax rolls in the future,” Shorraw said.

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The program is already getting some traction. Mark Frangipani has taken ownership of a pawnshop that has been abandoned since 2009. He’s planning to renovate and live in the upstairs and restore the storefront for himself or a tenant.

“If you’re looking for an opportunity or maybe you want to start a bakery or a coffee shop, you can actually afford to do that in Monessen,” Frangipani said.

And initial publicity had garnered some interest out of town and even out of state — real estate investors and developers enticed by the prospect of getting houses and buildings for a song.

“We’ve had people as far away as Orlando, Florida interested in buying properties here. As long as they’re committed to fixing them, we’re interred in having them here,” Shorraw said.

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But the city has a long, long way to go. The blight is expansive, and there is a dearth of new industry. The city can only hope to start moving in the right direction, one building at a time. The mayor believes it’s poised for rebirth.