Developer buys downtown OC
The Derrick, 11/2/01 By JUDITH O. ETZEL
A special thank you goes out
to The Derrick for allowing this article to be posted
THE ENTREPRENEUR SAYS HE INTENDS TO RESTORE ALL OR MOST OF THE BRODY BLOCK STRUCTURES BORDERED BY SYCAMORE AND CENTER STREETS.
A key downtown Oil City
block, a four-building stretch devoid of tenants, has been sold to a Virginia
developer who says he intends to restore all or most of the structures.
The Brody Block,
bordered by Sycamore and Center streets in the North Side business district, was
sold this week to a group known as 415 Main St. L.L.C. of Danville, Va.
David Brody, son of
Louis Brody who owned and operated Brody's apparel shop in the block, put the
parcel up for sale last spring. The property, which Brody said includes
"four buildings tied together" and covers 14,000 square feet, sold
this week for $35,000.
The buyer, a lawyer and
partner in the 415 Main Street development group, said he plans to restore at
least one of the buildings and lease it as office space. Scott Burton of
Danville said his company has done this type of enterprise before in Virginia,
New York and Florida.
"We plan to
stabilize the buildings and do some cosmetic fixups. The immediate plan is to
get the office building (the former Thrift Drug and more recently RentWay) up
and running....My view is to maintain its historical attributes but make it a
functional 21st century office," Burton said.
He said the three-story
brick building was built between 1910 and 1915 and "is fairly good and
remarkably preserved." The interior includes marble wainscoting, high
ceilings, mahogany paneling and large windows. Those are worth saving, Burton
He is not as keen on
preserving the other end of the block, the former Brody's store. "You get
to a point that putting it back the way it was doesn't make sense," said
Burton, adding that portion may be leased or sold.
Burton said he was
unaware Oil City "even existed" six months ago. Scanning the Internet
earlier this year, the entrepreneur saw another downtown Oil City building for
sale and became intrigued with the city. Traveling back home in July from
Buffalo where his company had purchased some houses, Burton detoured through Oil
"I was impressed
with all that was going on in Oil City and then I saw the 'entire block for
sale' signs. It was effective because it made me get in touch with Seneca Realty
(Brody's firm)," Burton said.
Oil City's downtown
Renaissance project, a three-year effort to redo city streets and sidewalks on
the North Side, drew Burton's admiration.
"It would have been
a different story if the city had not pioneered that downtown change. No one
ever wants to be first, to lead that sort of campaign. When I saw it, I knew we
could ride the coattails of previous restoration efforts. A lot of cities don't
have that luxury," he said.
Burton said it also
struck him that property owners had done "a fairly good job" of
restoring and maintaining old buildings in the city.
"It was the
charming aspect of the downtown that I appreciate. There appears to be a good
deal of restoration around my (Brody) block, which is certainly front and center
in the downtown. That's good. Hopefully we can bring up property values....I've
done it successfully in other parts of the country even though people said I was
crazy. I'm confident about doing the same thing in Oil City" Burton said.
He said observers will
not see any significant changes initially because much of the work over the next
six months will be confined to the interior. Typically his firm chooses a
construction supervisor who oversees local crews to do the work, Burton said.
Developers too often
overlook rural communities, according to Burton.
"A lot of
businesses will look at major metro areas and limit themselves. I have found
that you need to be more open-minded, especially in today's economy and after
Sept. 11....I think Oil City has a lot to offer, even though there have been
obvious economic hits," Burton said.
In its heyday in the
1950s and 1960s, the Brody Block was home to two apparel stores - Brody's and
Printz's - as well as Thrift Drug Store and Beneficial Finance. Last spring,
Brody offered the property to the Oil City Community Development Corp. at no
The CDC approached city
council and asked for financial help to acquire the building and tear it down,
putting a parking lot in its place. Council refused and the CDC eventually
turned down Brody's offer.