(Photo special to Tube City Almanac)
Condemnation notices have been posted on McKeesport's Peoples Building, the landmark 1906 skyscraper at the corner of Walnut Street and Fifth Avenue that a local real estate agent in January called the "Crown Jewel" of the Mon Valley.
Citing health and safety violations, signs dated Aug. 17 were posted on the entrances to the building, the one-time home of People's Union Bank and Trust Co. before it was merged into Union National Bank of Pittsburgh.
No demolition hearing has been scheduled, and demolition is not imminent, Mayor Michael Cherepko said. "It doesn't mean it can't be un-condemned," he said.
An inspection of the interior found numerous violations that can be corrected, Cherepko said, but the public is not in danger.
The building was placed up for sale in January with an asking price of $400,000. But the listing has since been pulled from real estate websites.
Speaking on background, a source familiar with the property said that at least one developer made an offer on the building, but negotiations with the owners, Lin and Lily Lum of Brooklyn, N.Y., stalled.
The 112-year-old building's roof is home to several cellular phone towers. One of the sticking points in the negotiations, according to the background source, was the rental income from the towers.
In a brief phone interview, Lily Lum declined to answer questions about the building or the negotiations, but said she and her husband want to sell "as quickly as possible."
"The city wants people to buy the building and we want to sell the building," Lum said.
The condemnation notice is "not a big problem," she said. "There's nothing there that can't be fixed."
Lum declined to answer follow-up questions.
(Photo special to Tube City Almanac)
Under the administration of former Mayor Joe Bendel, the People's Building was donated to the city by its then-owner, Integra Bank, in 1995, and was being rented to a variety of non-profit and for-profit businesses.
After Mayor Wayne Kucich took office in 1999, the city sold the building to a company controlled by a West Coast investor, Regis Possino, who immediately sold the building to another company he controlled for $2 million.
The second company defaulted on the mortgage and Possino was later sentenced to 18 months in prison for securities fraud.
Following foreclosure, the Lums bought the building from the mortgage company for $450,000 in 2008, according to Allegheny County tax records, and renamed it "Lums Tech Center," but there have been few, if any, office tenants.
County taxes are paid and up-to-date, according to the treasurer's office.
Cherepko said the city is working with the Lums "to move forward" with a sale.
With the Daily News Building being remodeled for a variety of tenants, and the nearby Lysle Boulevard parking garage slated for redevelopment, Cherepko said he hopes the Lums are able to come to terms with a buyer soon.
"We believe the People's Building can be redeveloped," he said. "With the garage reopened, you would have parking right across the street."
He noted that Garland Management of White Oak has purchased and is remodeling the former G.C. Murphy Co. store, two doors down from the People's Building.
Still in question is the future of the nearby Executive Building, a 1970s office building at the corner of Fifth and Locust streets. Emergency demolition work was ordered in January after part of the brick facade fell into the alley behind the building, and all of the tenants were forced to leave.
The Executive Building is owned by a Brooklyn, N.Y., corporation, Shel-AM, whose registered president and treasurer Aaron Muschel. Muschel was indicted by federal prosecutors in New Jersey in 2013 in connection with an alleged real estate fraud. He is currently free on bond awaiting trial, according to court records.
The Executive Building's state is a sore point for city officials, Cherepko said. "The owner has gone (missing in action)," he said.
Jason Togyer is the volunteer executive director of Tube City Community Media Inc. and editor of Tube City Almanac. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published October 03, 2018.