The former site of Eastland Mall, seen after demolition work was completed in 2007. (Tube City Almanac file photo)
The North Versailles Twp. commissioners have unanimously approved a plan for a warehouse and distribution facility to be built at the former Eastland Mall site on East Pittsburgh-McKeesport Blvd.
Due to current COVID-19 restrictions, the vote was taken via phone during the regular December meeting.
The approval came just one day after a virtual zoning board hearing was held to discuss the project.
The tenant interested in the site was represented by Trammell Crow Co., a real estate development company that is in the process of buying the property, currently owned by Benderson Development Co. of Buffalo, N.Y.
Sherry Brakeall’s home was named the “Best Traditional” entry in White Oak’s first home decorating contest. Organizers are hoping it becomes an annual event. (Submitted photo)
White Oak’s parks and recreation committee made some Christmas magic and boosted the holiday spirit with the borough’s first home decorating contest.
Organizers are hopeful that they’ve created a new tradition.
“I’d like to thank everyone who made our inaugural year possible,” said Councilwoman Julie Opferman, who chairs the parks and recreation committee. “It gave us the Christmas joy we’ve been missing this year.”
A total of 40 houses registered for the contest. Participants could enter in one of three categories:
• “Best Traditional” for classic and elegant displays, • “Clark Griswold,” named after the character in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” for the most extravagant light displays, or • “Buddy the Elf” for the most festive display, i.e., themes and inflatables.
A McKeesport man charged with shooting and wounding a city police officer has been arrested in West Virginia.
Allegheny County police on Tuesday evening reported that Koby Lee Francis, 22, was taken into custody by U.S. Marshals at an apartment complex in Clarksburg, about two hours south of Pittsburgh.
Francis is being held at the North Central Regional Jail and Correctional Facility in Greenwood, W.Va., to await extradition back to Pittsburgh.
Francis is charged by county police with aggravated assault, attempted homicide, unlawful possession of a firearm, flight to avoid apprehension and escape, in relation to the Dec. 20 shooting of McKeesport police Officer Jerry Athans, 32.
Longtime friend, mentor and Alert Reader Clarke Ingram emailed me over the weekend. He's addicted to Turner Classic Movies --- and when it comes to addictions, that’s not a bad one to have.
If you ever watch TCM, you know that between the features, the network fills time with “short subjects” such as newsreels, “trailers,” and advertising and public domain films.
“So I’m sitting here watching a short film on TCM, entitled ‘A Visit to Santa (1963),’” Clarke writes. “I wasn’t paying much attention until I noticed Santa was on the Gateway Clipper. A few minutes later, he's on a Christmas float going past the Penn-McKee.”
A quick dash around the Internet tubes turned up a copy at the Internet Archive, where you can download your very own copy of “A Visit to Santa.” Some Internet critics call it, unkindly, “the worst Christmas film ever produced.”
Something was missing from the Christmas season this year.
McKeesport’s “Tree Man,” Don Spang, passed away July 30 at UPMC McKeesport Hospital. Spang was the owner and operator of Spang’s Landscaping and Tree Farms for more than 54 years.
For more than a half-century, beginning each November, Spang could be found along Hartman Street in the city, helping local residents pick out the perfect Christmas tree.
Writer Emily Pidgeon talked to Spang last Christmas. Our deepest sympathies to his family and many, many friends.
Herb Spang and an employee prepare to bale a customer’s tree at the family’s lot on Hartman Street in McKeesport. The Spangs have been selling Christmas trees at the location for nearly 60 years. (Emily Pidgeon photo special to Tube City Almanac)
(Originally published Dec. 20, 2019)
Selling Christmas trees during the holidays may seem like a fun and easy way to make a buck, but after talking to some local tree lot owners, you may think differently.
“We have to fight snakes, spiders, the sun, the weather — everything, you know,” said Don Spang, 88, of White Oak, owner of Spang’s Trees on Hartman Street in McKeesport.
Spang and his brother Herb, 79, along with other family members and employees, are celebrating 59 years of selling Christmas trees in the very same location.
Spang said he’s sold as many as 5,000 trees in one season. These days, the lot sells closer to 500 trees.
On Wednesday, a federal agency and a Pittsburgh-area business owner both announced that they would offer rewards for information leading to the apprehension of Koby Lee Francis, 22, of McKeesport.
Francis is accused of shooting city police Officer Gerasimos “Jerry” Athans, 32, on Fourth Avenue outside the Public Safety Building and then fleeing the scene, still handcuffed from an earlier arrest.
He has been charged by Allegheny County police with attempted homicide, aggravated assault, escape, flight to avoid apprehension and violating the uniform firearms act.
Police have urged Francis to surrender himself to authorities.
But Allegheny County police Superintendent Coleman McDonough said this week that officers wanted to get an armed and dangerous suspect off of the streets as quickly as possible before any additional violence took place.
“We wanted it to end right here,” McDonough said at a press conference Monday. “We want this to be the last harm inflicted by that individual ... that’s our primary concern.”
Correction: This story was corrected after publication. See editor’s note.
As students gear up for winter break, some McKeesport Area parents are left wondering in what form school will resume in January.
While cases of COVID-19 continue to be confirmed in students and faculty across the district, in-person classes are expected to resume on Jan. 4.
All classes are virtual this week.
As of Dec. 22, McKeesport Area School District has had 77 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among students and faculty since the school year began on Sept. 2. Most of those cases have been reported since November.
McKeesport police Officer Jerry Athans, 32, prepares to return fire Sunday after being shot three times by a suspect identified as Koby Lee Francis, 22. Francis is charged by Allegheny County police with attempted homicide. (Submitted photo via Allegheny County police)
Holiday decorations in Kennedy Park on Lysle Boulevard spell out the words, “PEACE ON EARTH.”
The scene captured by surveillance cameras on Sunday afternoon along Fourth Avenue — just behind those words — is anything but peaceful.
Footage released by Allegheny County police on Monday shows a suspect identified as Koby Lee Francis, 22, of McKeesport, firing several shots at city police Officer Gerasimos “Jerry” Athans, 32, from the back seat of a McKeesport police cruiser.
Athans takes cover at the front of the car, turns, aims and returns fire as Francis — still handcuffed from his arrest a few minutes earlier — flees on foot. The entire sequence plays out in about 20 seconds.
“We strongly urge members of the community who can see that this was an egregious violation to cooperate with our investigation and provide us with his whereabouts,” said county police Superintendent Coleman McDonough at a press conference Monday.
The City of Duquesne will hold a public hearing at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday concerning a development proposed by the McDonalds Corp., a spokesperson said. The hearing will be held via Zoom and an invitation will be posted on the city’s website, http://duquesnepa.us.
Any owner, agent, lessor, lessee, mortgage holder, person or persons with a property interest may appear and be heard.
Koby Lee Francis, 22, is wanted by Allegheny County police in connection with the shooting of a McKeesport police officer on Sunday outside the Public Safety Building. (Courtesy Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office)
A suspect who was arrested Sunday afternoon for violating a protection-from-abuse order shot a McKeesport police officer outside of the Public Safety Building, sparking a massive lockdown and search.
The 32-year-old officer, whose name has not been officially released, was in critical but stable condition at UPMC Presbyterian hospital, Oakland, Sunday night.
The suspect, identified by police as Koby Lee Francis, 22, of the city is wanted by Allegheny County police on charges of attempted homicide, aggravated assault, escape, flight to avoid apprehension, and violating the uniform firearms act.
The incident happened just after 4 p.m. outside the Fourth Avenue entrance to the police station. A dragnet fell over the Downtown area and Third Ward following the shooting, as police from multiple jurisdictions — including local, county and state agencies and federal agents — cordoned off a large section of the city.
In an era where we’re being bombarded every day on our telephones by scams and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram by hoaxes and propaganda, access to information is more important than ever.
This year was a very difficult one for everyone. At Tube City Community Media, we lost one of our best correspondents due to a family emergency, while another had to give up writing for us because of her daytime work obligations. That left us unable to cover some communities with the depth they deserve, and we're sorry about that.
But we’ve persisted and we are working to recruit several new writers — two of them have already had bylines recently and we’re looking forward to more of their good work.
Correction: This story was edited after publication. See editor’s note.
Pennsylvania Republicans reacted with disbelief after state Sen. Jay Costa declared victory Wednesday for state Sen. Jim Brewster in his re-election.
Brewster, a McKeesport Democrat running for his third full term in the 45th Senatorial District, currently leads Nicole Ziccarelli, Lower Burrell Republican, by approximately 70 votes.
State totals certified Wednesday put the margin at 69 votes, while county-level results posted online say 73 votes.
But more than 2,000 mail-in and absentee ballots in Allegheny County have been challenged by the Ziccarelli campaign in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh. Although signed, those ballots lacked handwritten dates.
A federal judge in Pittsburgh has given Republican challenger Nicole Ziccarelli until Dec. 23 to demonstrate why her attempt to throw out more than 2,300 mail-in ballots in Allegheny County should proceed.
Those ballots give a 73-vote lead to state Sen. Jim Brewster, Democrat of McKeesport, in his bid for re-election to a third full term — and on Wednesday, Senate Democratic leaders declared victory for their colleague after the Pennsylvania Department of State certified the results.
“While we have been confident for some time that Sen. Jim Brewster would be returning to the Pennsylvania Senate, the official certification comes as a relief and we congratulate him on the win,” said state Sen. Jay Costa of Forest Hills, who also serves as senate minority leader, in a prepared statement.
A Canadian company that specializes in medical marijuana has completed its acquisition of McKeesport-based PurePenn.
Trulieve Cannabis Corp., which has its U.S. offices in Quincy, Fla., near Tallahassese, also recently acquired the parent company of Solevo Wellness, a medical marijuana dispensary.
PurePenn began operations in late 2017 in the Industrial Center of McKeesport, the RIDC-operated industrial park on part of the former U.S. Steel National Plant property.
The company, which grows cannabis plants and extracts chemicals from them for medicinal purposes, is currently completing construction of a 90,000-square-foot production facility expected to begin operations in early 2021.
Traffic restrictions are expected in Wilmerding beginning Thursday (Dec. 17) and continuing through Dec. 22, said a spokesperson for the Allegheny County Department of Public Works.
Crews from Mackin Engineering Co. and Sofis Rigging Co. will be inspecting the Patton Street Bridge and traffic on Wall Avenue and Avenue U will be subject to temporary restrictions, said the spokesperson.
Flaggers will be in place to direct drivers and motorists are urged to use caution while work is taking place, the spokesperson said.
Foster Road in White Oak is scheduled to close today for repairs, weather permitting, a district spokesman for the state Department of Transportation announced. The closure is expected to last through Dec. 24.
Crews need to repair damage caused by a slide on Foster Road between the two intersections with Carmella Drive, a PennDOT spokesman said.
The posted detour includes State Street, Lincoln Way and Crooked Run Road.
Western Pennsylvania communities are facing many of the same challenges today as they did decades ago — and if leaders don’t focus on the root causes of those problems, the challenges will persist for generations into the future.
That was the message of speakers participating in a forum Thursday organized by Penn State Greater Allegheny.
“We tend to place the blame on the people, instead of on the problem, or the institutions or policies that created those policies,” said Dannai Wilson, program manager of maternal and child health with the Allegheny County Health Department. “It’s not a people’s issue. It’s a systemic issue.”
Wilson was one of four participants in the forum that discussed the socioeconomic and environmental impacts of racial inequities for women of color as part of the McKeesport campus’s annual “Crossing Bridges Summit.”
North Versailles Twp. commissioners have tentatively approved a 2021 budget with no tax increase.
At its November meeting, the board of commissioners adopted a $8.06 million spending plan, which includes $7.56 million in the general fund, $304,603 in the liquid fuels fund and $205,010 in the fire tax fund.
Commissioners also fixed the property tax rate for 2021 at the current 7.25 mills.
The budget will be on display in the manager’s office in the township building, 1401 Greensburg Pike, during regular business hours until the next regular meeting on Dec. 17, when commissioners will vote to officially adopt the budget.
North Versailles Twp. officials are going to try to reduce wear-and-tear on several roads by establishing weight limits.
At their November meeting, commissioners approved an ordinance establishing limits on 12 township roads after officials determined they were being damaged due to the excessive weight of large vehicles traveling on them.
Vehicles exempted from the weight limits include emergency vehicles, school buses, vehicles making local deliveries or pick-ups and garbage trucks.
McKeesport officials have posted a video of this year’s Festival of Trees in Renziehausen Park and now are encouraging residents to submit photos of their own holiday trees to be part of a virtual festival.
A slimmed-down Festival of Trees—the 35th annual event—concluded on Monday evening at Jacob Woll Pavilion. Past events have included 75 to 90 hand-decorated Christmas trees representing various Mon Valley groups, churches and organizations.
This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event had only about 40 trees, and many of the usual amenities—including refreshments and hay rides through the park—were canceled.
An online forum Thursday afternoon will discuss how income inequality leads to poor health for Black women.
“Socioeconomic and Environmental Perspectives on Black Women’s Health” will be moderated by Johnathan White, history lecturer at Penn State Greater Allegheny campus in McKeesport. The event begins at 3 p.m. and will be streamed live on Penn State’s website at watch.psu.edu/crossingbridges.
The panel discussion is the second in this year’s series of Crossing Bridges Summit events. The first, in October, examined Black women’s health from a medical perspective.
In March, we had to ask the most of our residents: We asked them to stay home.
We asked them to forego their financial security, close businesses and have faith in the government to do the right thing.
“We’ve got your backs,” we said. “Programs will be available to you if you find yourself unemployed as a result of COVID-19.”
And while programs were made available through the federal CARES Act, so many residents and small business owners in my district alone have gone without, falling through the cracks created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
What would have been on your Christmas or Hanukkah gift list in 1978?
This week 42 years ago, McKeesport-based G.C. Murphy Co. was offering a Radio Flyer wagon for $7.77, a Polaroid “One-Step” Instant Camera for $29.94, and boys’ jeans — in Murphy’s own “Big Murph” brand name — for $5.97.
The five-and-10 chain had more than 500 stores that year, including locations at 315 Fifth Ave. in Downtown, Olympia Shopping Center in Versailles, 559 Miller Ave. in Clairton, 108 South Second St. in Elizabeth and 129-131 East Main St. in West Newton.
More than 1,000 people worked at Murphy’s corporate headquarters, or “home office” on Fifth Avenue—part of the 500 block now targeted for demolition and redevelopment—and hundreds more were employed at Murphy’s giant distribution center, which stretched from 28th Avenue to 35th Avenue in Christy Park.
• Arrest records published here were provided by the McKeesport Police Department. • Not all arrest records are published. • An arrest does not mean the person identified has been convicted of a crime. • All people arrested are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
The McKeesport police annual fund drive is underway.
A spokesman said the donations are used to purchase non-budgeted items and equipment used by officers while serving McKeesport and Dravosburg, which is patrolled by city police under a contract with the borough.
Donations are strictly voluntary, a spokesman said.
“The items purchased from these donations are used on a daily basis by our police department,” he said. “Several of these items would not have been purchased if it were not for the generosity of the local businesses and private citizens of both McKeesport and Dravosburg.”
McKeesport’s 2021 budget cuts more than a half-million dollars in spending and keeps tax rates the same.
“We will continue to try to shrink this budget,” Mayor Michael Cherepko told city council at its December meeting. “I’m looking next year to try to get below $22 million, to $21 million.”
On Wednesday, city council, with six members participating via telephone due to the COVID-19 pandemic, unanimously approved the $22.1 million spending plan, which holds taxes at 8.26 mills on structures and 20.5 mills on land.
McKeesport is one of three cities in Allegheny County that has separate millage rates on land and buildings. Each “mill” represents $1 in taxes for every $1,000 of assessed value.
A federal judge in Pittsburgh has denied a request for a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order that would block state officials from accepting some of Allegheny County’s election results.
At issue are 2,349 disputed absentee and mail-in ballots that will likely decide the 45th Senatorial District race between State Sen. Jim Brewster and his challenger, Nicole Ziccarelli.
The ballots in question were signed, but not dated, by voters.
In her request last week, Ziccarelli, Republican of Lower Burrell, asked U.S. District Judge J. Nicholas Ranjan to prohibit state officials from accepting Allegheny County’s certified results, which include those ballots.
Brewster, a McKeesport Democrat, holds a 73-vote lead out of more than 132,000 votes cast.
East Allegheny School District was set to begin a new hybrid learning model on Dec. 7, but a surge in Covid-19 cases in Allegheny County and a new order from the Pennsylvania Department of Health, put that plan on hold.
At a special meeting held Nov. 23, the board voted to go completely remote until possibly Jan. 19.
The district was operating within a scaffolded learning model that allowed students with individualized education plans to attend classes in-person.
Allegheny is one of the counties in the state now considered an area of substantial transmission. The recent order from the Pennsylvania Department of Health recommends schools in those counties either go completely remote or commit to even stricter in-person mask guidelines.
Mele & Mele & Sons crews pave an unidentified road following a pipeline construction project. The company is relocating to Duquesne and adding 20 new jobs. (Submitted photo courtesy Mele & Mele & Sons Inc.)
A Rankin-based construction company that has worked on projects at Allegheny County Airport and other prominent Pittsburgh-area locations is relocating to Duquesne’s industrial park.
Mele & Mele & Sons, Inc., has purchased a 14-acre parcel in the City Center of Duquesne for construction of a 16,000-square-foot office building and a 22,000-square-foot maintenance facility.
The firm will add 20 new jobs after relocating, a spokeswoman said.