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McKeesport's 'Crown Jewel' Prepared for Sale

By Jason Togyer
The Tube City Almanac
January 19, 2018
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

(Photo special to Tube City Almanac)

Amazon.com? Your new Pittsburgh-area headquarters is waiting at the corner of Walnut and Lysle.

If not Amazon, says city resident Regis Mellinger, why not Apple Inc.? The company has announced plans to re-invest $350 billion in the U.S. economy --- why couldn't it be in McKeesport?

Mellinger, a sales associate for Howard Hanna Wilson Baum Agency and the operator of the "Positive McKeesport" Facebook group, knows it's far-fetched to think that Apple or Amazon would want to open an office in the city.

But Mellinger doesn't think it's a crazy idea to envision the 112-year-old People's Union Bank Building --- which has just gone up for sale at $400,000 --- as the headquarters for a high-tech company, or as loft apartments.

Although Howard Hanna isn't the agency representing the sellers, Mellinger has been eager to show the People's Building to potential investors.

"It's really an incredible building, and it has some incredible views," he says. "That building is the heart of the Downtown business district, and when we get the heart beating, I think the rest of the Downtown will start to come back as well."

Built in 1906, the building once housed the People's Union Bank and Trust Co. as well as a variety of doctors, dentists, attorneys and other professionals.

Until 1958, city government offices also were located in the building, and city council met there.

But People's Union Bank was merged into Union National Bank of Pittsburgh, which was merged into Integra Bank. In the early 1990s, Integra suggested tearing down the building, and tenants fled.

Former McKeesport Mayor Joseph Bendel negotiated the donation of the building to the city, with the goal of using it as a business and arts incubator.

The building was reportedly 60 to 70 percent occupied when Bendel's successor as mayor, Wayne Kucich, persuaded the city redevelopment authority to sell the building to a West Coast investor.

Unfortunately for McKeesport, the investor, Regis Possino of Pacific Palisades, Calif., turned out to be what the ShareSleuth investment blog called a "fraudster." Baywatch actress Pamela Anderson was among his other victims.

In 2013, Possino --- a former attorney for one of Howard Hughes' top aides who was disbarred after trying to sell 350 pounds of marijuana to undercover police officers --- pleaded guilty to his role in a stock manipulation scam and was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

The People's Building ended up in foreclosure and in 2008 was sold to a Brooklyn, N.Y., couple, Lily and Lin Lum. The building currently has no tenants, though a caretaker is on site, and AT&T operates cellular phone towers on the roof.

(Photo courtesy RE/MAX South)

Cindy Schmidt of RE/MAX South in Baldwin, who represents the Lums and is handling the sale, says they purchased the building with the goal of moving to the Pittsburgh area and locating a business there.

Ten years later, Schmidt says, their plans haven't worked out, and they've decided to sell the building.

"They really want to sell it, and would like to help get the community going," Schmidt says. She grew up in West Mifflin and remembers when the People's Building was full of doctors' offices.

"All of the wonderful architecture inside is still intact," Schmidt says. "All of the marble and stone is still there." Even the old bank vault remains intact, in the basement.

(Photo courtesy RE/MAX South)

The building needs "some TLC," she says, especially on the windows, and the elevators need to be upgraded, "but overall it's in good shape."

At least one developer has shown "serious interest," says Schmidt, though she could not reveal their name. Mellinger has also recently shown the building to a developer who has done work in the East Liberty neighborhood of Pittsburgh.

Schmidt says she's been pleasantly surprised by the amount of interest the building has attracted, but Mellinger isn't --- he's been actively posting the listing in social media websites used by real estate investors.

"It's a landmark building, and I want somebody to buy it who wants to make it thrive," Mellinger says. "I want to see it sold to the right person. It's kind of an oxymoron to say that McKeesport has a 'crown jewel,' but that's what I think it is."

(Photo courtesy RE/MAX South)

Mellinger suggests that the building would lend itself into conversion to loft-style apartments. "From the upper floors, you can see both rivers, you can see four bridges," Mellinger says. "It's got great views of the whole area."

And because the banking hall on the first floor remains intact, he suggests it's "a perfect place for a restaurant."

Schmidt says one potential developer has already suggested possible reuses for the building. "I think there are a lot of possibilities," she says. "It could be office space. It could be living space. The building is really a pretty good deal."

Originally published January 19, 2018.

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