UNION CITY - The iconic but long vacant Union City Dinor, and an adjacent downtown building, have been purchased by community development nonprofit Union City Pride.
The $35,000 purchase of the diner from out-of-town owners, and the $22,500 purchase of the adjacent brick building from the Union City Full Gospel Church, were finalized this week. The total $57,500 and associated transaction costs were paid for with grants from the Union City Community Foundation and Erie Community Foundation.
Union City Pride board president Dave Nothum said the organization does not have immediate plans for the properties, but that the important first step was to get the diner in local hands.
"We all recognize how important that entrance is to downtown Union City," said Nothum. "It sets the tone for the downtown, and in many cases is the first impression visitors and motorists have. The restaurant property has for many years been a highly visible negative element, and we're looking forward to making improvements to that corner."
Nothum said that while the property is in poor condition, the adjacent building is in good condition. It was purchased, he said, to give Union City Pride more flexibility and options for deciding what to do with the intersection corner. Whatever is done with the properties will take some time to evolve, he cautioned.
"We'd like to be able to do something tomorrow, but it will likely take some months for ideas and decisions to take shape," he said.
Purchasing the diner was complicated by the fact it was owned by an out-of-town partnership. Union City Community Foundation board member and Union City businessman Jim Shreve spent several months putting the deals together.
"It's the crossroads and center of our community," he said of the intersection properties. "It needs to look good, to be impressive."
Shreve also said the Rev. John Ohrn, pastor of the Union City Full Gospel Church that owned the adjacent building, and Ohrn's wife Virginia, were immediately interested in the idea of helping the community have some control over the downtown corner.
"They were incredibly cooperative during the entire process," he said. "They truly have the best interest of the community at heart."
Ohrn said the building was the first location for the church in 1996, and was subsequently used by the church as a weekend game room for some 15 years. He said the church made inquiries over the years about purchasing the diner and adding it to their ministry, but the owners wouldn't negotiate on the price they were asking at the time.
The restaurant’s poor condition has led in recent years to water encroachment in the church building's basement, adding to the reasons Ohrn was pleased to hear about the effort to get it in local hands.
"We were very happy to cooperate with the initiative, and more than happy to come to an agreement to purchase the buildings so their initiative can go forward," he said. "We were really excited to cooperate with what they were doing."
The Union City Community Foundation provided $30,000 and the Erie Community Foundation $40,000 toward the purchases and costs.
"We all love our hometown, Union City," said Steve Jones, chairman of the Union City Community Foundation board of directors. "The idea is to be a more vibrant and progressive community. The idea is to be a more welcoming community. These property purchases are the stepping stones toward something real, tangible and visual. It will be exciting to witness the changes as they develop, and see where this transformational community growth can take us all."
The Union City Community Foundation has its own local board of directors and makes its own grant-making decisions, but partners with the Erie Community Foundation in several ways.
Mike Batchelor, president of the Erie Community Foundation, said ECF is pleased to help fund a project the Union City Community Foundation sees as vital to its goals.
"Our investment in Union City is being leveraged, and serves as crucial matching funds," he said. "It is also spurring big thinking and transformational change."
Union City Borough Secretary Cindy Wells said the collaboration between Union City Pride and the two foundations is good news for the community. She said the borough's ongoing downtown historic preservation initiative, and other efforts that also include considerable private investment, are setting the stage for things to come.
"Union City is so fortunate right now to have so many organizations willing to work together to transform Union City," said Wells. "Everyone has the same end goal, and that is to make Union City a great place to live and raise a family."