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Owner of Harris Boyer Building promises demolition by end of month

By: Maria Miller

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. -- The demolition of a notorious building in Johnstown's West End that's been blighted for years was promised Monday by the end of the month.

"We smelled the gobs baking and the bread baking and it was great," said Cassy Sojak, who lives across the street from the building.

That's the way neighbors remember the onetime bakery, now a blighted building that's been on 6 News dozens of times in recent years. Most people know it as the former Harris Boyer Building. It's been considered an eyesore and a safety hazard for years.

Just a few months ago, its owner said it would be coming down. Neighbors told 6 News then they didn't believe it, saying they had been given empty promises for years. But on Monday, the owner's attorney made a new promise.

Owner John Hrivnak was in court Monday for the 16th time, fighting a pending lawsuit by the city for code violations dating back to 2011.

"It takes time to put into place all of the steps that are necessary before you can achieve the goal, which is demolition,  said Johnstown attorney David Weaver, who represents Hrivnak.

"It's just run down. We've seen rats, stray cats, everything over there," Sojak said.

"We're concerned that the hazard and the eyesore and the dysfunctional structure be demolished for the benefit of everybody," Weaver said.

On Monday, Hrivnak's counsel assured the court the building has already been cleared of asbestos and will be coming down by the end of the month.

"I'll believe it when I see it," Sojak said. "They've been saying that for years."

Sojak has lived behind the building for more than 40 years and told 6 News it's been more than just an eyesore for her family.

"The house next door was my mother's and when we tried to sell it when she was in the nursing home, we couldn't get the price because everyone said, 'This is an eyesore,'" Sojak said. "They wouldn't live here."

"The asbestos abatement through the DEP, that was the holdup," said Ron Repak Jr., solicitor for the City of Johnstown. "It's finally been put into writing that we have a completion date of July 28, 2014. That's when the building has to be down and what the court agreed to today."

When asked if the demolition will be completed or just started by that date, Weaver said, "I'll cross my fingers if you cross yours. But sure we do. We're thinking it will be finished."

The city said Hrivnak will be paying for most of the demolition himself, by letting the construction company doing the work collect the metals inside for scrap.

And when the building comes down, city officials said another nearby building will also be torn down. The comic book store next door is one of hundreds of blighted properties in the city officials told 6 News last year they couldn't find the owners of.

The owner of the comic book store in particular was said to have left the country for the Dominican Republic. It turns out that man was Dr. William Acosta, who was recently brought back to Cambria County to face federal charges of tax fraud. There's no word yet if the city will try to recover money from him for demolition costs.

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Edgar Snyder

Washington Times