Downtown development | Homes and Lofts: More People Choose to Live Downtown | New
JOHNSTOWN, Pennsylvania – Many historic homes in Johnstown have been destroyed or have been demolished.
In the 200 block of Lincoln Street, a block once populated by Victorian-style homes, only a few still stand – and only one is currently occupied.
Chad McLaren and Austin Hoffman bought a home there in July, and they have plans to help prevent Johnstown from losing more of its historic residential nature.
Their home, built in 1890, survived the Johnstown floods of 1936 and 1977.
Inside, the original ramp, stained glass and hardwood floors are intact.
The exterior needs some work, they said, and they plan to get started as soon as they can find a contractor.
They also bought an empty lot just across the street. It is a large brown grassy area, visible from the inclined plane. They plan to plant a vibrant garden there in the spring.
They paid $ 28,500 in cash for the house and land, and for that price, McLaren is surprised that other downtown properties remain seemingly unwanted.
âThere are beautiful houses and buildings downtown that just sit there,â McLaren said.
McLaren, 35, is from Summerhill Borough, and Hoffman, 33, is from eastern Pennsylvania.
They’ve been waiting for a downtown home to hit the market since they returned to the area months ago from Norfolk, Va., Where McLaren served in the US Navy.
âWe absolutely chose to live here and our quality of life has improved,â said McLaren. “It’s the pace of life, the cost of living.”
‘Lots of amenities’
Bill and Kim McKinney also took a leap of faith to save a piece of downtown Johnstown.
They are renovating an eight-story building at 605 Main Street, which dates back to 1904. It was once the Carnegie Building and, more recently, the home of Cambria Jewelers.
They call their 18,000 square foot building the âLofts on the Upper Mainâ.
Construction began about two months ago and their plan is to sell floors of over 2,000 square feet each.
The McKinneys sold their house in Westmont to move downtown.
âI really wasn’t on board at first because we built our house 27 years ago,â said Kim McKinney. âBut we have no regrets. We really enjoy being part of the city center.
Bill McKinney said he’s noticing more concerts in Central Park in Johnstown or at Peoples Natural Gas Park. He also highlighted plans by the Johnstown Recreation Commission to bring more entertainment to state-of-the-art Sargent Stadium.
âI think we’re in the middle of a process of something new,â Bill said. âI think there are a lot of amenities that people don’t realize are downtown.â
“We feel like in New York”
McLaren said he and Hoffman were also in the early stages of forming an association of downtown residents.
Their association would aim to adopt projects including parks and present residential needs to the municipal council.
“There are a lot of people who live downtown, and we want to stand up for that,” McLaren said. “I don’t think he’s getting enough attention.”
Francis Ryan, 97, has lived in the downtown 1st arrondissement since returning from World War II in 1946, he said.
Looking from his porch on the 200 block of Union Street, he noticed that there isn’t a house all the way across town at Washington Street.
âEverywhere you see a parking lot now, there was a house there,â he said.
Ryan was a crane operator for the former Bethlehem Steel Co. He quit that job after the 1977 flood, he said, because he saw the company downsizing.
âThere aren’t many houses left in the city,â he says.
The 2020 census showed that Johnstown’s population declined by 12% to around 18,000, continuing decades of population loss. The last time the population was less than 20,000 was in 1880, when Johnstown was in its infancy and promising.
Thrilled with new businesses and residential interest in the city center, McLaren said he wanted to make the city center more recognizable as a 24-hour neighborhood, not a place to work, and then return to Richland or Westmont.
He said he liked being within walking distance of a variety of shops and restaurants.
âAnd we’re basically next to the library, not to mention the Cambria County War Memorial Concert Hall and Peoples Natural Gas Park – another underrated asset,â McLaren said. “Or you can walk to the station and be in New York in a matter of hours.”
Hoffman hopes to have a small impact in pushing the population numbers up over the next few years.
As a board member of the Discover Downtown Johnstown Partnership, he saw how the group’s Taste & Tour event last year drew people downtown.
âDuring this event, downtown looks like New York and that only represents 700 people,â he said. “I think that’s a realistic number to attract to live here.”
Hoffman works remotely in the healthcare industry. McLaren moved from active duty to the Naval Reserve and is a full-time student on the GI Bill at Indiana University in Pennsylvania.
“What a city center should be”
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in an unexpected demand for private housing and office space in the low-cost small Johnstown market, said Howard Hanna Johnstown real estate agent Barry Gallagher.
âThe idea of ââoffice space, especially during the pandemic – it’s like a drug on the market,â he said.
Gallagher said he saw people who worked remotely move to Johnstown. and retirees who have moved over the years are also coming back, he said.
Millennials and baby boomers are the crowd that downtown Johnstown, and inner cities in general, are likely to attract the most, said Laquan Marshall, CEO of Johnstown Capital Partners, LLC.
In addition to the downtown mixed commercial-residential buildings, the company also completed the renovation of a house at block 200 of Vine Street. So far, an itinerant nurse has shown interest, he said.
Years ago Sharon Honkus, owner of Celestial Brides on Market Street, developed residential lofts above Classic Elements on Main Street.
âMy partners and I bought this building 14 years ago and converted the upper floors into lofts,â she said. âWe were one of the first to take over a building and do it. and now it’s turning into what a downtown should be: foot traffic, people who want to live downtown.
Russ O’Reilly is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on twitter @RussellOReilly.