The Meadville Streetscape Committee is now among the chorus of local voices lobbying the state to drop objections that stand in the way of developing a new bank branch in downtown Meadville.

Erie Bank wants to put up a new branch on Park Avenue between the Hovis Interiors Annex and Mickey’s Central Fire Station on a site that is currently a city parking lot and a vacant, crumbling building.

The bank has worked out agreements with the city and the building’s owner to buy up the land, but has run into a roadblock with the state of Pennsylvania.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. approves all new bank branches and conducts a thorough site review as part of the process. Because the site is in Meadville’s historic district and is on the National Register of Historic Places, the FDIC has asked the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission if it has any objections to the building being razed to make way for the new branch. Commission officials have objected, claiming that the building is not too far gone to be rehabilitated. As a result, the FDIC wants the bank and the Historical Commission to work out their differences before it signs off on the project.

Known as the Yonts building for the name on its facade, records at the Crawford County Historical Society show that the building was associated with the Spirella Corset Co., which once had a factory and extensive operation in Meadville.

Spirella created made-to-measure corsets — body-contoured undergarments for women, a product that was unique to its times a century ago — in the United Kingdom and U.S. from approximately 1904 to 1989. The worldwide business has been cited for its historic impact on the undergarment industry.

The structure, first used by Spirella in approximately 1900, made headlines nearly a year ago when a city inspection turned up concerns about parts of the building breaking off and falling onto the surrounding sidewalk and parking spaces. Since then, the sidewalk and several parking spaces around the building have been fenced off for safety’s sake. Two engineers’ reports showed serious issues with the structure.

While the bank has provided those reports to the state’s Historical Commission, commission officials were not moved.

In an effort to change that, local Erie Bank Senior Vice President Steve Cappelino recently enlisted the assistance of the two elected state officials who represent Meadville — Republican Sen. Bob Robbins and Rep. Brad Roae. The City of Meadville is also sending a letter in support of razing the building. On Friday, Cappelino appeared before the city’s Streetscape Committee to review the project and enlist the committee’s support.

Plans show the bank building at the corner of Park Avenue and West Center Alley — closest to Mickey’s — fronting directly on the sidewalk. The main walk-in entrance would face Park, where there would be about eight metered on-street parking spaces.

Around back, the bank would have two drive-through lanes and an automatic teller machine lane. Cars would enter the site from Park by turning onto West Cherry Alley and then into the bank’s lot, which would have about nine parking spaces. Customers would exit onto West Center next to Mickey’s and head back out onto Park.

A fourth lane runs across the lot for uninterrupted access across the property.

As part of the project, the bank would fix up the surface of West Cherry up to the entrance to its property.

A planting strip with trees and shrubs would run in the area between the end of the bank building and West Cherry.

Behind the bank building and its lot, two of the three metered city parking lots currently on the site would remain.

While the project does need approvals from other city boards before moving forward, Zoning Administrator Gary Johnson said it appears the project is well within all guidelines. It’s estimated that construction would take about four months. Once complete, the bank would employ up to eight people.

“I am not saying we are against preserving historical sites,” said Cappelino, “but we are going to put a better product there than what is there, plus this is going to help the city with taxes and that certainly is more than what is going on there now.”

Streetscape Committee member Jim Budney said, “you’d spend a ton more trying to fix it up.”

The committee unanimously approved the project and will send the minutes of its meeting to the state Historical Commission with the city’s letter of support.

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