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(Tube City Almanac photo)
The People's Building --- a landmark 1906 office building in McKeesport's Downtown that has fallen into disrepair --- will be in the hands of the city's Redevelopment Authority in the near future.
At Monday's grand opening for the Tube City Center for Business and Innovation, Mayor Michael Cherepko confirmed rumors that the building, which has been up for sale for more than a year and is currently condemned, is about to be sold.
"Very soon that is going to be in the hands of the Redevelopment Authority and that will be in the hands of a developer as well," Cherepko said. "We have someone very interested."
The potential developer is rumored to be a McKeesport business owner who has successfully rehabilitated other properties in the city. Sources contacted by the Almanac declined to confirm or deny the speculation publicly.
Built as the headquarters for the People's Union Bank and Trust Co., the building was home to city offices prior to the 1959 construction of the McKeesport Municipal Building, and also housed offices for many doctors, lawyers and other professionals.
Many of the offices, replete with early 20th century details, including original woodwork, remains intact, along with a massive bank vault in the basement.
It fell into decline in the 1990s when its then-owner, the former Integra Bank of Pittsburgh, put tenants on month-to-month leases and reportedly planned to demolish the structure.
In 1995, former McKeesport Mayor Joseph Bendel negotiated the donation of the bank to the city, along with funds for its operation, and renamed it "The People's Building." Under Bendel's leadership, the city rented low-cost office space to start-up businesses and non-profits. McKeesport Heritage Center and the Carnegie Library of McKeesport held events in the vault.
After Bendel resigned to run for Allegheny County council, then-Mayor Wayne Kucich directed the city to sell the People's Building. It changed hands twice in 2002 --- first to a Nevada Company called Strong Partners Inc., then to a company called Geneva Equities of Santa Monica, Calif., at a substantial profit.
Both companies were controlled, in part, by a disbarred lawyer who was later indicted by a federal grand jury in California for illegal stock market manipulations.
In 2004, Geneva defaulted on its mortgage and the building ended up in foreclosure. A Brooklyn, N.Y., couple, Lily and Lin Lum, purchased the building in 2008 for possible use as a technical center.
It has remained largely vacant except for cellular phone towers on the roof, and was put up for sale last year.
But several possible sales were scuttled, according to sources involved in those potential deals, and the building was condemned in October.
Jason Togyer is volunteer executive director of Tube City Community Media Inc. and editor of Tube City Almanac. He may be reached at email@example.com.
Originally published February 13, 2019.