WEST PITTSTON – This time Mike Hanley had nothing to be afraid of when he entered the former Hitchner Biscuit Co. building.
The executive director of the United Neighborhood Community Development Corp. joined others Friday cutting the ribbon on the $6 million conversion of the four-story building into 18 low- and moderate-income apartments.
The interior was redone from top to bottom. On the outside the red brick was cleaned and the Hitchner name repainted on the wall facing Exeter Avenue. The architect and builder kept some of the industrial aspects, converting one of the huge arched-ceiling brick ovens into a sitting room and making a stairwell out of the other oven.
Four years ago, Hanley treaded lightly when then-Mayor Bill Goldsworthy led him on a tour.
Hanley said Goldsworthy told him, Don't get scared as they crawled into the building.
Goldsworthy, deputy director of the governor's Northeast Regional Office, recalled how he and others, including the late attorney, Charles Bufalino, worked on restoring the eyesore to its former glory.
The borough bought the building and cleaned it up for a total cost of $111,604. Taxes were forgiven and bids were put out to develop the property. UNCDC bought it for $350,000. The project took three years of planning and a year of construction. Residents moved into the one, two and three-bedroom apartments last month.
To me this is like the rebirth of West Pittston, Goldsworthy said, adding many properties in the borough sustained heavy damage in last year's flooding.
We were ready to start construction when the flood happened, Hanley said.
The project is the first for UNCDC outside of Lackawanna County and was funded through the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, PNC Bank, Luzerne County and the Commonwealth Financing Authority. The last piece of the funding puzzle was $500,000 in local share gambling funds.
The great-grandson of co-founder Joseph Hitchner took part in the tour and provided memorabilia such as recipes, crates and boxes and photographs to the project.
I'd always hoped they would save the building, Boyd Hitchner said. Now 74 and living in New Jersey, he remembered taking broken cookies and crackers that were sold by the bagful to the public to eat as snacks when he went to the movie theater on Saturdays as a boy.
Barbara Pettinato's connection to the building is much shorter than Hitchner's. She moved into a second-floor apartment last month and likes having more open space to move about because she walks with a cane.
She visited it with her family before renting, returned home and started packing. Once I saw it, I fell in love with it, she said.