Developer buys downtown OC block
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 said.

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 City.

"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 cost.

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.