Update 4/26/19 – Members of the New Castle City Council expressed puzzlement this week over the progress and allowable timeframe for the $50,000 conversion of the former Jefferson Court Motel. Though Taft has installed electrical, added a new roof, connected gas service and completed minor interior framing since receiving project approval in June, the construction permit issued on March 1 gives him five years to complete the self-storage project, according to the source.
Though the permit is in accordance to Pennsylvania's Uniform Construction Code, city officials were taken aback at the length of time allowed to develop the site. "What's his deadline? The guy who's doing the work. Five years? That's what I'm scared of," Panella said during the meeting.
Councilmember Tim Fulkerson, who voted against the project last June, expressed regret over the city’s decision to allow the conversion to move forward. "That building should have been demoed, and we'd probably have a lot better shot of attracting something different than climate-controlled storage on Jefferson Street," he said.
6/5/18 – Self-storage owner Robert Taft is seeking permission to convert the former Jefferson Court Motel in New Castle, Pa., to a new storage location. Taft recently presented his plans to the city council for the property at 115 N. Jefferson St., which he purchased from local attorney Paul Lynch in January for $20,000, according to the source. If the plan is approved, he’ll invest about $50,000 to convert the hotel’s 56 rooms and bathrooms to climate-controlled storage units. The facility will also sell moving and packing supplies.
“The planning commission granted its blessing. I hope the city council adds its approval,” said Taft, who purchased Shenango Mini Storage at 405 W. Grant St. in New Castle four years ago. “We’ve had 100 percent occupancy for some time. I hope to have the same success with this place.”
The plans include preserving much of the building’s overall look. Broken and missing windows on the exterior of the L-shaped structure will be replaced, with those facing the alley to be closed in or otherwise secured. Taft, who also owns Taft Plumbing & Heating in Hermitage, Pa., will be doing most of the work himself.
“If council approves my request at its June 28 meeting, I expect to get started right away and go full-bore,” he said. “Unless I uncover a curve ball, we expect to have at least some of the units available for rental in six months.”
During the May 24 public hearing, council members asked about operation details but were supportive of the project. Council president Bill Panella sought information about Taft’s plans for signage, operating hours and onsite staff. In response, Taft noted the property would be unmanned and open 24/7, similar to Shenango Mini.
Although unable to date the property, Taft guessed the building was likely built in the 1950s or 1960s. “It’s based on the designs of Frank Lloyd Wright. I like it,” he said, adding that the structure was sound. “There were broken windows, but the building has held up surprisingly well. There were no cracks or sagging anywhere. It was built right.”
Following his purchase, Taft rented a dumpster and emptied the trash and furnishings from the building. He also had to deal with vagrants who’d been living on the property.
Prior to the presenting his plan to the council, Taft worked with city officials James Farris, zoning office, and Anthony Cioffi, code director. “Both have been very helpful,” he said. “I expect to continue to work with them as we get ready to submit our permits.”
“This is a gamble for me,” Taft added. “But the building could be salvaged and go from an eyesore to an asset if I get permission to do what I want.”
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