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River Roots Redevelopment: GUEST - Don Smith - Seneca Plaza

The recent conversation around adaptive reuse has sparked a desire for me to share a personal note on not just the “how” but the “why” of redevelopment, from my point of view. My name is Don Smith. Many in the Franklin and Oil City area simply know me as Doc, as I’ve fixed many a broken bone over the years in this community. As I was facing my retirement, I began looking for ways to keep fixing things, and so I chose to focus on the community I’ve called home for most of my life. Those of you who know me know I have a bit of an accent. I like to joke that it’s because I’m from the south side of Oil City. In truth, I was born and raised in Alabama. I’ve lived here in Northwestern Pennsylvania for most of my adult life, though, since the time I left the Navy and set up my first private practice. This is my home, and I want to take care of it as best I can. So, I’ve gone from fixing bones to fixing buildings.

Buildings, unlike people, can’t take care of themselves in any way. They are completely dependent on us to keep them up, keep them relevant. Not every building will always be relevant, and some are past the point of saving, but plenty have a lot of life left in them, so to speak. When I’ve purchased buildings, I’ve looked at them in a business sense as well as a community sense. Will the space create revenue, AND, will the space add to the community? I started with two spaces within Oil City. My colleague, Hind Karns, kindly provided an overview of the goings on at the old Woolworths building a few weeks back, so I won’t repeat what she already said better than I could. Today I’d like to tell you about the other space I’m working on in Oil City, and my hopes for future redevelopment as well.

I purchased Seneca Plaza, which is a complex of two single-story buildings right smack on the south end of downtown Oil City, before I purchased the Woolworths building. I fully intended to spend all of my time and much of my resources to renovate it first as well. As tends to happen, life had other plans, and the Woolworths building needed some critical infrastructure repair and upgrades which took my attention and cash flow for a number of months, and then the building began to attract tenants. Now, I am able to now turn my attention back to Seneca Plaza, fixing the broken bones I find within the space and, I hope, bringing the complex fully back to life.

As I mentioned, Seneca Plaza acts as a first view of downtown Oil City as you drive across Veterans Memorial Bridge. To be honest, right now it kinda looks like a lump of white brick, but it does hold a vintage charm upon closer inspection. The brick is glazed and speckled in a way that just screams 1960s, and the building is topped with a surprisingly lovely slate-accented mansard style roof. The remaining original windows and light fixtures here and there add to the vintage vibe. There is still a good bit of work to do. The brick and slate are a bit worse for wear in spots, and we found a few leaks in the roof. Some windows and doors have reached the end of their lifespan. As these structural issues are discovered, we will work to fix them, while also reviving the vacant spaces within the complex, making room for new enterprises.

Webco Industries was the first business to see the potential in this slightly aged but still kickin’ space (and no, there is no parallel whatsoever to myself there!). Together, Webco and I renovated the old Manpower office into the new Webco CareATC Family Health Services clinic. This clinic now provides preventative and primary care, free of charge, to all Webco employees enrolled in their health plan. That right there is exactly the kind of partnership I am looking for when I redevelop a space. Webco pays rent, which lets me keep fixing up the rest of the complex, and the Webco clinic provides an amazing service to their employees and a noteworthy model of employee care for the entire community. It’s a win-win-win.

Now that I have completed the most crucial work on the Woolworths building, I intend to get back to renovating the remaining vacant spaces in the Seneca Plaza complex: the old Social Security office, the old American General Insurance office, and the old doctors’ offices behind Janney Financial Services. Soon, these broken spaces will be patched up, revived, and filled with business that complement and support Janney and Webco, as well as the Chamber of Commerce, Rotech, and Fine Wines & Good Spirits, all existing tenants of Seneca Plaza and dedicated, long-term Oil City establishments. Fixing broken things and making them work properly again – that’s what I do. It’s who I am. It’s why I’m in redevelopment.

- Donald B. Smith, MD, Founder and CEO of DBS Development & Consulting, LLC.


Rachel Brosnahan is the Community Engagement Coordinator for River Roots Redevelopment. She can be reached by email at

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