Tube City Almanac

March 14, 2008

'The Best Buy' in Pennsylvania

Category: Mon Valley Miscellany || By

It's the best real estate buy in Pennsylvania, possibly the "best buy for commercial real estate in the country."

That's what California broker Paul Elliott calls McKeesport's Peoples Union Bank building.

"I've seen a lot of buildings, and that is built so well," he says, via telephone. "You probably couldn't build a building in that fashion today for $400 per square foot."

Elliott's firm, Inner Broker Marketing of Riverside, Ca., has the eight-story, 1906-vintage skyscraper listed for $595,000, or about eight dollars per square foot.

"We've already had some low offers on the property," he says, in the $100,000 range. "It's a magnificent piece of architecture. There are some things that have to be done, but we're talking eight dollars per square foot!"

Constructed as the headquarters for McKeesport's Peoples Bank and Trust Co., the building also was the home to city government offices until 1959, and was the region's premier location for lawyers, doctors and other professionals until the 1970s.

In the early 1990s, Integra Bank, which had taken over the structure after a series of corporate mergers, put many of the remaining tenants on month to month leases. Rumors circulated that Integra was getting ready to tear the building down. Tenants fled.

But former Mayor Joseph Bendel negotiated the donation of the building to the city's redevelopment authority, along with an endowment for its upkeep.

Bendel envisioned the building as a small business incubator, telling this reporter in 1996 that the People's Building was "a battleship."

"Every navy needs a battleship," said the mayor, who died in October 2003. "This is McKeesport's battleship."

Carnegie Free Library of McKeesport opened a used bookstore in the old vault, the city treasurer's office took over the banking floor, and non-profit agencies began occupying the upper floors. The old "Peoples Union Bank" sign was converted to read "Discover McKeesport."

Bendel's successor as mayor, unfortunately, encouraged the city to sell the building for less than its market value. It was purchased by a West Coast investor, flipped to another company, and ended up in foreclosure. Seattle-based Chesterfield Mortgage Investors Inc. currently owns the building.

Elliott was stunned to hear that the "People's Building" was almost demolished.

"What a shame that would be," he said. "Something like that --- when it's gone, it's gone forever. McKeesport needs that building up and going."

Although the roof is nearly new and "tight as a drum," Elliott says, some infrastructure improvements are necessary. The elevators --- there are three, including a service elevator --- must be upgraded. In addition, new wiring and telecommunications lines might be required.

"It's all doable," he says, "because of the way that building is constructed."

Parking is also an issue, though a municipal lot is available directly across the street.

Elliott is currently "aggressively" marketing the first-floor retail space to banks and credit unions. The upper stories would work for back office space, assisted living, or what he calls a "sober living" community --- housing for people recovering from drugs or alcohol.

"(Chesterfield) will even carry paper on it, which means no loan fees, no points, and special terms, which is really cool," Elliott says.

Some of the upper floors are in move-in condition. Others need to be renovated "on a floor by floor basis." Many retain their 1900s-vintage marble floors, brass fixtures, wooden partitions and frosted-glass doors.

"If there's an investor out there who wants a really, really wonderful property, they need to call me," Elliott says. "I know there's a buyer out there."

Inner Broker Marketing hopes to have the building sold within 40 days. Sealed bids are not necessary, and offers can be accepted electronically.

To make an offer (serious inquiries only), call Elliott at (909) 754-5722 or email

Your Comments are Welcome!

What stikes me, living in the DC area, is the incredible range of prices for real estate in different regions. Around here, $595,000 will buy you a decent house (the average new home price in the DC metro area is about $800K). Here, you can buy a landmark 75,000 square foot office building, in decent shape, for a relative pittance. A building like the Peoples around here would likely go for at least $30/foot as is. Hope someone buys it and turns it into a first-class space. Does the City have any historic preservation laws? This would certiainly be a prime candidate.
ebtnut - March 14, 2008

Personally, I’d love to have a tour of the place and take some photos. Old buildings really fascinate me. I wonder how possible it would be to do something like that?
pointy_stick - March 14, 2008

That battleship analogy was amazingly prescient; no navy currently has a battleship in service, preferring instead to implement smaller, sleeker, more adaptable craft…

“All four Iowas were decommissioned in the early 1990s, making them the last battleships to see active service. USS Iowa and USS Wisconsin were, until fiscal year 2006, maintained to a standard where they could be rapidly returned to service as fire support vessels, pending the development of a superior fire support vessel. The U.S. Marine Corps believes that the current naval surface fire support gun and missile programs will not be able to provide adequate fire support for an amphibious assault or onshore operations.

With the decommissioning of the last Iowas, no battleships remain in service (including in reserve) with any navy worldwide. A number are preserved as museum ships, either afloat or in dry-dock.”
[from wikipedia, of course]
Frank J. Curto - March 15, 2008

I enjoyed reading the information about the former Peoples Bank building. I wonder, thinking 5 years ahead, what would a new owner do with the building? Our downtown is not going to rebound, housing for seniors should not cohabitate with a “sober living community” and what retailer would want the once choice location? A Jenkins Arcade concept is no longer economically feasable albeit would be most welcome. Yes, it is sad, that a structure that once was regal is now but a white elephant. An idea may be to donate it to the Veterans Administration to house and provide services to the many veterans who need a domicile.
Donn Nemchick - March 16, 2008

I disagree our downtown will not come back because:

a) I am on the job ;)
b) We are still in the same geographic location that attracted Andrew Carnegie and other private investors years ago.
c) We are still only one large employer away from a vast revitalization.

I may just put my $ where my mouth is one day soon.

Stay tuned.

~ Councilman Shelly
Paul "Sluggo" Shelly (URL) - March 27, 2008

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