Burns: Wrong for JRA to have preselected buyer for Atrium building

Sales agreement already drawn up for $50,000, despite costly upgrade

EBENSBURG, Feb. 21 – Citing it as a prime example of the type of insider deals that too often frequent Johnstown, state Rep. Frank Burns is wondering aloud about the propriety of the Johnstown Redevelopment Authority’s plan to buy, significantly upgrade, then resell Main Street’s Atrium building to a preselected buyer.

Burns, D-Cambria, said the JRA plans to acquire the building at auction for $50,000, expend federal grant funds for costly asbestos removal and pursue an exemption from sewer line testing and replacement from the Greater Johnstown Water Authority all while already having drawn up an agreement to subsequently sell the building to JPN Holdings, LLC, for the same $50,000 it paid.

“I’m all for progress, but I’m not for back-door deals,” Burns said, “Who wouldn’t want a $50,000 building where someone else had paid for all the asbestos removal, and had gotten you the OK to avoid expensive sewer replacement, that most homeowners were forced to pay?”

“If the JHA is fixing it up and offering a deal like this, then the plan from the get-go should be to put the building up for public bid once the asbestos is removed. That’s how you achieve transparency, fairness and public confidence.”

Burns said he thinks JRA board chairman Mark Pasquerilla and other longtime community elites are so steeped in doing business the old way that they not only ignore the winds of change, they refuse to acknowledge their existence.

“What they’re doing is par for the course around here,” Burns said. “The elites keep cutting their deals and getting their way. Why aren’t they doing this type of deal for somebody who wants to put a badly needed grocery store in Johnstown?

“Mark Pasquerilla came to my office in September and talked about the need for a grocery store – and I’ve never heard another word from the Redevelopment Authority since.”

Burns also questioned the fundamental fairness of exempting properties from the sewer line pressure testing that other water authority customers had been required to comply with.