Ed Fine really didn’t set out to build a retail and office complex.

“My goal was saving the building — the building drove this project,” the retired physician said.

The structure in question is the former PNC Bank/First National Bank of Pennsylvania office at 940 Park Ave. that Fine bought and is renovating with the majority of his own funds and financing.

In February, Fine purchased the downtown behemoth, home to the Park Theater before it was a bank, for $435,000, and has been investing in the building since.

Part of its first floor already has reopened as a retail center with more to come later this month.

Fine won’t comment on his costs, but will say it’s more than a half-million dollars.

“It’s a huge project. You think it’s going to be simple. It’s not so simple. I switched my retirement portfolio from stocks to real estate,” he said with a laugh.

Fine oozes enthusiasm as he speaks about the structure and its future.

“It’s a great project,” he said. “I hope from this project, people will take more of an interest downtown.”

As an example of that interest, another large building — the one housing National City Bank’s Chestnut Street office and the Meadville-Western Crawford County Chamber of Commerce — returned to local ownership this summer.

“We need not only retail, but residential downtown,” Fine said. “It makes for a more attractive downtown.”

Downtown investment can feed on itself.

“It raises property values,” he said. “There’s more people investing in downtown. There’s more people living downtown.”

Fine is serious about getting businesses to come downtown, too.

To attract tenants, he offers businesses that sign a two-year lease the first year rent-free, including utilities, and those with a five-year lease, two years rent-free.

That’s brought in two businesses already — Lin’s, a women’s clothing and accessories store; and Park Avenue Gifts.

Lin Ferguson, who owns Lin’s, and Barb Roesh, who owns Park Avenue Gifts, are two Greenville businesswomen who have located branch businesses together on part of the first floor and share a clerk.

Two Linesville-based firms are set to open branch locations by the middle of the month. Like Ferguson and Roesh, Patti Ryckman of Treasured Gifts and Ginny Headley of Ginny’s Bulk Foods and Deli are co-locating their branches and will share staff.

Two other businesses are planned for the first floor that are Fine’s ideas.

Tellers Row Coffee Bar @the Bank is a coffee shop which he plans to open Nov. 21 in the former bank teller area.

The only public funding that Fine has received for the building has been a $25,000 loan from Meadville Redevelopment Authority’s revolving loan fund to purchase equipment.

Fine also wants to open up a hardware store geared toward women — Pink Pliers. It’s aimed at women who are willing to do their own do-it-yourself projects, but who may be intimated by large retailers, he said. That’s in the offing in the next few months.

There is a first-floor space that’s ready, but what may be done with it is still unknown.“It could be a display area (for art). It could be a retail area,” he said as he stood among the 1,400 safety deposit boxes inside the former bank vault. “I’ve got the keys for all of them. It’s just a hoot.”

There is a lot of bank memorabilia that Fine wants to display throughout the building.

However, development isn’t confined to the first floor.

The mezzanine level has about 3,750 square feet of office space that has sparked interest from a couple of potential tenants, Fine said. Leases for the space are expected in the future.

A large indoor park some 80-by-120-feet is planned for the bank’s second floor along with a food court, tea room, antiques cooperative and some office space.

The park will have an 18,000-watt lighting system to create a daylight atmosphere as well as artificial plantings that will be changed out seasonally.

“It’s a few months in the future,” Fine said.

Artwork found on the second floor of the building from when it was the Park Theater will be incorporated into the project.

Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at kgushard@meadvilletribune.com

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