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The owner of Di's Kornerstone Diner vows to fight any attempt to evict her from the building she's rented for more than seven years.
"I think it's terrible what they're doing," Diane Elias said. "Here's McKeesport, which has hardly any businesses left, and they want to throw me out."
But city officials said they've tried to find Elias another location for her East End restaurant, a popular spot for breakfast and lunch. Elias didn't like any of the options, they said.
City council this week approved a request from Enon, Ohio-based Speedway LLC to build a 24-hour gasoline station and convenience store at the corner of East Fifth Avenue and Elm Street in the East End.
Speedway operates nearly 1,500 locations in Ohio, the Midwest and southern United States, including a station on Route 30 in Irwin. According to reports in Convenience Store News and the Tribune-Review, the chain is expanding its presence in Pennsylvania and in addition to McKeesport, is also considering new locations in Delmont Borough and Hempfield and Unity townships in Westmoreland County.
A division of Marathon Petroleum Corp., Speedway is the fourth-largest U.S. convenience store chain, according to the company's annual report.
Building the McKeesport store will require the demolition of the former Pizza Hut building that houses Elias' restaurant. She rents the property from Harry Stewart Jr. of Dayton, Armstrong County.
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"I was never a day late paying the rent," said Elias, who added that she paid for any improvements to the building herself. But Elias never had a long-term lease on the property. She said she tried to buy the property from Stewart, but her offer was turned down.
An attempt by the Almanac to reach Stewart by phone was not successful.
"The perception is that the city is doing this to her, and the city had nothing to do with it," Mayor Mike Cherepko said. "The owner worked out a deal to sell the property, and decided to sell."
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City officials, including Community Development Director Bethany Bauer, have taken Elias around McKeesport to look at other vacant properties, including the former Chiaverini's Restaurant in Christy Park and the old Ball Park Restaurant near McKeesport Area High School, Cherepko said.
Elias rejected all of their suggestions, he said. "It's unfortunate that she's losing this location," Cherepko said. "We don't want her business to be hindered."
Elias said the locations that city officials showed her would require too much investment or would take too long to improve. She's currently looking at a storefront on Lincoln Way in White Oak.
The pending sale of the property has already hurt her business, Elias said. Engineers hired by Speedway recently came and conducted core-sample drillings in the parking lot, within feet of the restaurant's door, disrupting her business, she said. "They're not very nice people," Elias said.
Cherepko said the city asked Speedway to limit work such as drilling to hours when Elias' diner isn't open to customers.
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The land where the proposed gas station will be built is at a red-light controlled intersection, in a commercial zoning district, and near a car wash and a Pennzoil quick lube.
Speedway's conditional use application was unanimously approved by the city planning commission on Oct. 22 and needed only ratification from council. Councilmen Rich Dellapenna Jr. and A.J. Tedesco Jr. voted against ratifying the planning commission's decision.
The city had no legal justification for rejecting the request, Cherepko said. "If we would have denied the conditional use request, we were opening ourselves up to legal action," he said. "All they would have done is appealed the decision, and they would have won."
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Before Di's Kornerstone Diner opened in 2004, several other independent restaurants had tried unsuccessfully to make a go of the former Pizza Hut. Elias was a waitress for one of the previous operators.
For Elias, a city resident who has decorated the inside of the restaurant with historic photos of McKeesport from the '50s and '60s, the pending loss of the business she's created is a bitter blow.
Speedway has told her they want her to vacate the property within two months and that they intend to break ground for the new store in March.
"I've got a lawyer, and I'm not going," she said. "I'm going to fight."
Good luck to Ms. Elias in her efforts to keep Di’s open in the present location but it seems like a done deal by property’s owner. It sure seems she has been kicked in the teeth. I hope she finds a suitable location around McKeesport and that her patrons will be loyal. She deserves better.
Donn Nemchick - December 08, 2012
Isn’t this magical.
Just what McKeesport needs. Yet ANOTHER gas station/convenience store, to be held up and robbed now and then.
An out of town property owner makes a quick profit from a national faceless chain in exchange for the livelihood and business built by a small businessperson, something that McKeesport is very short on as it is.
How great of a draw is a(nother) gas station when we are talking about attracting new people to McKeesport?
What about the loss of customers that the existing gas stations/convenience stores will face? How can anyone see any increase of tax revenue here? It will just be spread out between gas stations/quickie marts.
Not to mention the mess that the in/out traffic will cause to that part of the road. It’s already a pain there during rush hours. Just wait til the lights are adjusted to allow for more traffic flow in and out of that new establishment.
Wondering – Was it the same city officials that helped evict Wally and Joe’s owner find a new location after HE was robbed of his business that helped her?
Just one last thought:
We seem to have no problem looking in the mirror at night when good business folks are evicted for the sake of other businesses or projects “for the greater good” and hiding behind the “we’ll face legal action” argument when we are asked for help.
Well, why not evict the residents of some of the dilapidated section 8 and welfare housing areas in our city to pave the way for new businesses?
We certainly need more new tax-generating businesses than we do section 8 and welfare housing and their recipients.
Wouldn’t THAT be “for the greater good” of our city?
Shadango - December 10, 2012
A thriving local business being replaced by a “speedway”? How tacky!
John M. - December 10, 2012
I think that our Mayor and City Council need to grow some! It seems that they are very choosey who they choose to help and what they choose to turn down or reject. What happened to the new school on the Palkowitz property for instance? They could have welcomed the new business to the city, but why at that location? They could have said that we have a tax paying business there already. Why didn’t someone show Marathon the Ball Park or Chiaverini’s. Try driveing by the Ball Park, the stench of mold and mildew is very overwhelming not to mention the roof is caving in. How much is owed in back taxes? Yeah, look at Chiaverini’s and all of the businesses in that area, I do not think any of them are doing well. If this was the Viking on this intersection I am sure that the council would have found a way to help the business owner out.
Doris Daye - December 13, 2012
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