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Condemnation order lifted, new owner has interest from multiple tenants
Condemned signs have been removed from the Executive Building, Downtown, whose new owner, Jonathan Stark, has four potential tenants ready for the first floor. (Tube City Almanac photo)
Although the “Condemned” notices were recently removed from the doors of the Executive Building on Fifth Avenue, don’t expect to see a movie at the Quad Cinemas in the basement any time soon.
The seats and projection equipment are long gone, but the four auditoriums are still there, and they’re still plagued by the same problem that forced the theaters to close in 1980 — they’re prone to flooding.
“They’re more than 20 feet below street level,” said Jonathan Stark, who purchased the building in April 2020.
While the old theater spaces are likely to stay vacant, four tenants have signed letters of intent for the storefronts along Fifth Avenue, Stark said.
They include a coffee and smoothie shop with two other locations; an optometrist; a barber shop; and a restaurant that would be located at the corner of Fifth and Ringgold.
A large government agency is looking at leasing one of the upper floors, Stark said.
“Everybody’s kind of (asking) me the question, aren’t you nervous about the commercial real estate market, because of COVID?” he said. “And I say no.”
Even when the building was still condemned, potential tenants were inquiring about space, Stark said.
Although there are plenty of vacant buildings in McKeesport, Stark said, many of them aren’t in rentable condition. He’s asking approximately $10 per square foot, with utilities included.
That’s about half the going rate in Pittsburgh or Monroevile. The Executive Building also offers a small, enclosed parking garage for tenants.
“We know it can’t stay that cheap, but we need some people who are willing to take the same risk we’re taking, and get this place occupied,” Stark said. “If we keep it renovated and if we can offer something at a reasonable price we’re in good shape.”
Stark, who also is renovating the People’s Bank Building on the opposite side of Fifth Avenue, purchased the Executive Building for $125,000, according to county tax records.
That’s about one-quarter of what the Executive Building last sold for back in 1993, and a fraction of the $4.2 million spent on its construction in 1971 and 1972.
But the “bargain” property required extensive repairs, including replacement of practically all of the plumbing, which froze and shattered while the five-story, 180,000-square-foot building sat empty for more than two years.
Architect’s rendering from 1971. The building was designed by William V. Cobern & Associates and construction cost $4.2 million. (Tube City Online collection)
Until a decade ago, the building housed a bank, stores, and offices for many doctors, dentists and attorneys.
It became mired in trouble under its previous owner, who was indicted in 2013 by federal prosecutors in New Jersey in connection with an alleged real estate fraud.
Most of the tenants moved out on their own a short time later. The remaining tenants were evicted.
In 2018, the building was condemned after several brick columns on the facade collapsed. The damaged columns, which were not load-bearing, have been reskinned with metal.
Stark purchased the Executive Building in part because he was worried that letting it sit vacant, and blighted, would harm his attempts to market the People’s Building.
For now, he said, prospective tenants seem more interested in the newer Executive Building, mainly because its more modern floor plan allows for larger offices and work spaces.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen with the People’s Building,” Stark said. “I see more non-profit stuff there. But I think when we get traction on this building, it’s going to help the People’s Building.”
Originally published January 13, 2021.