(Tube City Almanac file photo)
McKeesport's historic People's Bank Building will likely have a new owner by the end of the month.
The mostly vacant 80,000-square-foot structure was transferred to the Redevelopment Authority of the City of McKeesport for $1 and is now under agreement to be sold to a new owner, said A.J. Tedesco, the city's community development director.
The buyer is Jonathan Stark, owner of Legion Arms and Compulsive Paintball, who also is developing a new commercial building on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Market Street at the one-time site of the Memorial Theater.
"We have a lot of work to do," Stark said. "Lots and lots and lots of work to do."
Terms of the deal have not been disclosed.
Built in 1906, the eight-story office building was at one time home of People's Union Bank and Trust Co. as well as city offices. The upper stories were filled with professional offices, including attorneys, doctors and dentists.
It was donated to the city in 1995 during the administration of then-Mayor Joe Bendel, who renamed it "The People's Building" and filled it with small businesses and non-profit agencies. When Bendel's successor, Wayne Kucich, took office in 1999, McKeesport officials put the building up for sale.
The People's Building then went through a chain of owners before being purchased out of foreclosure by a Brooklyn couple in 2008.
Although Stark has not yet taken ownership, he has been a regular presence at the building for several weeks, performing maintenance and repairs.
"The building is structurally sound, but our main objective --- the place to start --- is trying to prevent damage to the building," he said. "And anything potentially dangerous, we're trying to tackle first."
Stark had literally just received a sales contract from the redevelopment authority when a motorist crashed into the double glass doors at the Lysle Boulevard corner of the building. The driver told McKeesport police she was swerving to avoid a tractor-trailer making an illegal turn onto Walnut Street and lost control of her car.
The crash destroyed the doors and damaged some of the marble trim, Stark said.
(Photo courtesy Jonathan Stark)
Much of the building's original grandeur is intact, including the banking hall with its vaulted ceilings, and many of the offices on the upper floors retain early 20th century glass and wooden partition walls.
Two offices --- formerly used by dentists --- even have the 1950s era dentist equipment in place, Stark said.
Although the dentist equipment will be removed, he said, as many of the original fixtures as possible will be repaired and retained.
Once the sale is complete, Stark said, he will be actively looking for commercial tenants for the upper floors. The first floor may be re-purposed as meeting or co-working space, he said.
The city's reuse of the former Daily News Building, and the possible rehabilitation of the Lysle Boulevard parking garage, can only help make the People's Building more marketable, Stark said.
"Whether it's the city or other business owners, once people start to redevelop other buildings Downtown, I think you will see activity start to expand to other storefronts," he said. "The entire Fifth Avenue corridor will become very viable."
Jason Togyer is volunteer executive director of Tube City Community Media Inc. and editor of Tube City Almanac. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published June 06, 2019.