To: The Honorable Michael Cherepko, Mayor of McKeesport
The Honorable Darryl Segina, President, McKeesport City Council
Members of McKeesport City Council
City Administrator Matthew Gergely

From:
Jason Togyer
Member, Board of Directors
McKeesport Heritage Center
Subject: Penn-McKee Hotel

Date: January 31, 2012

BACKGROUND
Since 2009, McKeesport Heritage Center has been working with city officials and agencies and Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation to try and identify a historic property that would be worth preserving and re-using.

Our goal is not to have any property preserved simply as a museum piece—just for its own sake. We want empty but historically significant properties put back on the tax rolls and occupied by taxpaying entities that provide jobs for McKeesporters and the region.

I was authorized by the board of directors to facilitate meetings between the city, appropriate agencies and any responsible preservation organization that might be willing to help.

After looking at a number of areas (including the Evans Avenue corridor and St. Peter’s Church) we settled on the Penn-McKee Hotel.

But there was a problem — we couldn’t figure out who owned the building. No one was taking care of it and the building is being stripped by vandals. It’s unsecured and no utilities are connected. The taxes have gone unpaid since the 1980s.

The building is in the name of something called “See Bee Inc.,” which has no listed office and no listed officers at the state Corporation Bureau. Until 2009 or 2010, tax bills had been sent to a company on West Fifth Avenue, but that recently changed, and bills started being sent to a White Oak resident, [redacted].

REDEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY

In October 2010, the city (through then-Mayor James Brewster) and the Redevelopment Authority of the City of McKeesport told us that they would move to take the Penn-McKee through their blighted property review process. (The city attempted to take the old Eagles Lodge on Market Street at the same time.)

In January 2011, the McKeesport Preservation Society, and its co-founder, Mary Ann Huk, came forward and claimed to represent the building’s owners. Ms. Huk retained a Pittsburgh attorney, William Bresnahan II, to fight the city’s declaration of blight and taking. THIS STOPPED THE TAKING PROCESS.

At the suggestion of Attorney George Gobel, solicitor for the Redevelopment Authority, I approached Ms Huk both personally, and through my attorney and fellow Heritage Center board member, Robert Messner.

Ms Huk and Mr. Bresnahan have declined repeated written and telephoned requests from both me and Mr. Messner to meet with myself, PH&LF or city officials. The executive director of the Young Preservationists of Pittsburgh attempted to intervene on our behalf with Ms Huk as well. She would not talk to him.

CURRENT STATUS

Unclear. To my knowledge, the Redevelopment Authority has not responded to Ms Huk’s challenge in court.

The building’s ownership remains in limbo and it continues to be open to the elements and vandalized. It is an eyesore and a poor advertisement for the bike trail, McKee’s Point Marina, and the Palisades.

ACTION TO BE TAKEN

1.) Before any work can be done, some “friendly” party must be in control of the building. McKeesport Heritage Center is unwilling and unable to solicit funding or work on this project without knowing

  • who or what agency owns the Penn-McKee and
  • that the person or agency that owns the Penn-McKee is willing to work openly, transparently and in good faith.

 

We are not confident that Ms Huk and/or McKeesport Preservation Society actually owns the building, or that she and/or they are acting openly, transparently and in good faith.

2.) The McKeesport Heritage Center at no time has asked for ownership or control of any building. Period. I am not authorized to make policy on behalf of the Heritage Center’s board of directors, but I can say this unequivocally: I have been told by the board of directors in no uncertain terms that we do not want ownership of the Penn-McKee Hotel or any other historic building.

3.) Our preferred solution would be for the building’s ownership to be in the hands of some non-profit municipal agency (the Redevelopment Authority of the City of McKeesport, McKeesport Industrial Development Authority, McKeesport Development Corp., etc.), a third-party tax-deductible agency (Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, Young Preservationists of Pittsburgh, etc.) or some private developer (to be determined) interested in re- using the building.

4.) Once the building’s ownership is secured, McKeesport Heritage Center would immediately begin organizing a volunteer “clean-up” and “spruce-up” of the outside of the building to secure the entrances and temporarily improve the street-level appearance.

5.) IMPORTANT: At any time during this process, assuming ownership has been secured by the city or one of its agents, the city would be free to re-sell the building to a developer or to demolish it.

6.) Before any permanent investment in the building, a feasibility and engineering study must be conducted to determine if the building can be re-used; and what re-uses might be appropriate. Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation has offered to conduct this feasibility study; they estimate the cost would be approximately $50,000.

7.) If the feasibility study determines that there is no practical re-use of the Penn-McKee, then the city would have to decide what, if any, action is to be taken. Demolition would be the likely next step.

8.) If the feasibility study identifies possible re-uses for the Penn-McKee, a fundraising campaign would have to be created to target both large corporate and institutional donors, and small individual private donors. To obtain historic preservation tax credits, a for-profit entity (for example, a limited liability corporation) would have to take ownership.

HOWEVER: Nothing can be done until the ownership of the building is clear.

I read with interest Charles McCollester’s Nov. 27 “The Next Page” article about the historic 1947 debate between then-congressmen John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon and the article “Effort Under Way to Restore, Reopen Penn-McKee Hotel” [South] on Dec. 8.

The Penn-McKee has been vacant and abandoned since the mid-1980s. For three years, our group has been working with McKeesport and state officials and with regional preservation authorities to see if the building could be saved and reused.

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/11356/1198447-55-0.stm

To: Charles McCollester, Battle of Homestead Foundation
C.C.:
Michelle Tyron Wardle-Eggers, executive director, McKeesport Heritage Center
Robert T. Messner, esquire
Bethany Budd Bauer, director of community development, City of McKeesport
Dennis K.E. Pittman, administrator, City of McKeesport
James Haughey, Executive Director, McKeesport Housing Corp.
Angelia Christina, McKeesport Housing Corp.

Dear Dr. McCollester:

I had a sleepless night on Sunday and had 450 miles of driving to think about things.

I am delighted that the Battle of Homestead Foundation took the initiative to apply for a historical marker commemorating the Nixon-Kennedy Debate!

I do wish that the Foundation had collaborated with the City of McKeesport or the McKeesport Heritage Center — or even informed the Center of its intentions! — but we do not have a monopoly on McKeesport’s history. This marker is a wonderful thing for McKeesport, and the Battle of Homestead Foundation should be congratulated.

HOWEVER: I am very, very unhappy at Mary Ann Huk’s involvement in any celebration.

I cannot begin to register my anger strongly enough, and I am prepared to voice my anger with Mayor McLaughlin, McKeesport City Council and the media.

I have nothing personal against Ms Huk, but it’s an injustice for her to receive any credit as a “preservationist.” Indeed, if the Penn-McKee Hotel is demolished, she and her “preservation society” will deserve much of the blame!

Ms Huk has helped discredit the cause of historic preservation in the City of McKeesport and her involvement in any public ceremony would
— in the eyes of those of us who care about this city — not do credit to the Battle of Homestead Foundation.

With all due respect, I would like to speak with you this week, before the planning for any public announcement goes any further. I am not seeking any public role for myself, but I do want to make sure the record is straight.

Please let me know when you have a convenient time in your schedule.

Very truly yours,
Jason Togyer
Member, Board of Directors
McKeesport Heritage Center

From: Charles McCollester
To: Jason Togyer
Date: Nov. 9, 2011
Cc: (long list of email addresses deleted)

Dear Jason:

I would be happy to meet with you. I first met Maryann Huk I believe during a meeting I organized under a U.S. EPA Brownfields grant that I wrote for the cities of Duquesne, McKeesport, and Clairton for the West-to-West Coalition and IUP’s Labor Center. We had a public forum at the Palisades (Cheryl Sears was my helper on the Mckeesport public education efforts). We met again in conjunction with the dedication of the Queen Aliquippa historical marker that I wrote in cooperation with Laverne McConnell and Ruth Weyman at their request (I partnered with them in that instance). Indeed, last spring, Maryann alerted me to the Queen Aliquippa marker’s’s vandalism and helped me get in touch with a very helpful Mckeesport Public Works department (under Mayor Brewster) who repaired the damage to the pole and reset the marker. Maryann spoke forcefully about various preservation projects she cared about. Initially, I was most interested in the Roundhouse that I would explore when I was at the 1905 building after Maglev meetings. It was in a conversation with her almost two years ago that I first learned about the 1947 Kennedy-Nixon debate. She possessed a tiny article written before the debate announcing it in the Daily News. I was fascinated since I knew the local history in some detail around the impact of Taft-Hartley on labor in the Electric Valley and the bitter local struggle around communism in the 1940s and 50s. (Also, at age 17, I was president of a Youth for Kennedy effort in Rochester NY and followed the campaign and read their personal histories intently). (Third-party’s name redacted) had always been a prime source of information about the history of McKeesport in the 1940s, but he was unaware of the debate as well. Last spring (Name redacted) and I got to tour the Penn McKee at Maryann’s invitation. The more I researched the debate, the more interesting the story became.

To be clear, the marker is commemorating the debate (not the Penn-McKee) and my interest is in educating around the issues involved in the most anti-labor legislation of the 20th century whose shadows we can discern recently in Wisconsin and Ohio. I have always been clear with Maryann that the marker is about the debate and that the Penn McKee’s fate is separate. I told her that if the hotel were torn down, the marker could be moved to city hall near the Kennedy 1960 Campaign statue. In fact in the press release that I drafted with the input of President Leo Gerard and the Communications department of the USW that went out today I believe, while I mention that there are ongoing preservation efforts concerning the Penn McKee, Maryann did not want her or her group mentioned in the press release. It is only because I keep (Name redacted) appraised of efforts around the marker (he wrote a brilliant 3 page endorsement of my proposal) that I first heard of all this controversy, although I have at times felt uneasy about some interactions that I have witnessed.

What the Battle of Homestead Foundation, the Pennsylvania Labor History Society and the USW wants is a marker dedication program that might include a talk by Chris Matthews on the Kennedy-Nixon personal relationship along with a roundtable or symposium on the impact of the Taft-Hartley legislation then and now. Ideally we’d like this in April or May with the marker dedication program at the Palisades. I’d love to see a discussion of the possibilities for development around the hotel to be a part of such an event, but only if such a discussion can be useful to progress on the effort. Hopefully however everyone can unite around the commemoration of the debate and benefit from education and discussion about the ongoing effects of the legislation.

Charles McCollester

Note: No meeting ever happened. After a further exchange of emails, I called Mr. McCollester and asked if we could meet on a neutral ground. Instead, he told me that he had not read my emails; wasn’t interested in the other side of the story; felt I was “rude”; and had no intention of meeting with me.

It should be noted that several things in Mr. McCollester’s email are imprecise, putting it kindly; to put it less charitably, they are disingenuous.

The McKeesport Preservation Society was, indeed, mentioned in the press release sent by the USW; and despite Mr. McCollester’s assertion that “I have always been clear with Maryann that the marker is about the debate and that the Penn McKee’s fate is separate,” the third sentence of the release says, “This designation caps a campaign by the McKeesport Preservation Society working to preserve the Penn-McKee Hotel.”

It seems clear that this historical marker is about polishing the McKeesport Preservation Society’s reputation; and about raising money for Mr. McCollester’s foundation.

Also: My complaints are with McKeesport Preservation Society, not the Battle of Homestead Foundation. But I am sorry that Mr. McCollester inserted himself into this dispute, and then acted in a high-handed and condescending manner when he was informed of the controversy.

July 21, 2011

To the Editor, Daily News:

Your story (July 19) about the Penn-McKee Hotel contained several serious errors. Those errors would have been avoided if your paper had contacted me for a comment. Although I was mentioned throughout the story, I was not contacted.

Read Letter to the Editor, July 21, 2011

I have invested a lot of time and energy into this project for the last three years, and I feel like we’ve gotten nowhere. I’m starting to understand why so many people look at the problems in the Mon Valley and say, “Why bother?”

(Opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not represent those of McKeesport Heritage Center or any other organization.)

I need to clarify the article that appeared July 19, 2011 in the McKeesport Daily News, and I have asked for a clarification from the newspaper.

The McKeesport Heritage Center at no time has asked for ownership or control of any building. Period. Full stop.

I am not authorized to speak on behalf of the Heritage Center’s board of directors, but I can say this unequivocally: I have been told by the board of directors in no uncertain terms that we do not want ownership of the Penn-McKee Hotel or any other historic building.

I have made that very clear to city officials and to the city Redevelopment Authority in every meeting that we’ve had, and in every piece of correspondence that we’ve sent.

I can say personally that I do want the McKeesport Preservation Society and its co-founder, Mary Ann Huk, to stop standing in the way of actually preserving a historic landmark.

Ms Huk — if you care about the Penn-McKee Hotel, then:

  • Why aren’t you securing the building?
  • Why aren’t you paying the taxes?
  • Why aren’t you repairing the damage?
  • Why aren’t you cleaning up the blight?
  • Why aren’t you meeting with people who would want to help you do those things?

Here’s the background: Since 2009, McKeesport Heritage Center has been working with city officials and Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation to try and identify a historic property that would be worth preserving.

I was authorized by the board of directors to facilitate meetings between the city, appropriate agencies and any responsible preservation organization that might be willing to help.

After looking at a number of areas (including the Evans Avenue corridor and St. Peter’s Church) we settled on the Penn-McKee Hotel.

But there was a problem — we couldn’t figure out who owned the building. No one was taking care of it and the building is being stripped by vandals. It’s unsecured and no utilities are connected. The taxes have gone unpaid since the 1980s.

The building is in the name of something called “See Bee Inc.,” which has no listed office and no listed officers at the state Corporation Bureau. Until 2009 or 2010, tax bills had been sent to a company on West Fifth Avenue, but that recently changed, and bills started being sent to a White Oak resident.

So, in October 2010, the Redevelopment Authority of the City of McKeesport told us that they would move to take the Penn-McKee through their blighted property review process.

Lo and behold, up popped the McKeesport Preservation Society, and its co-founder, Mary Ann Huk, who say they represent the building’s owners. Ms. Huk retained a Pittsburgh attorney, William Bresnahan II, to fight the city’s declaration of blight and taking.

Ms Huk and Mr. Bresnahan have declined repeated requests to meet with myself, PH&LF or city officials.

The executive director of the Young Preservationists of Pittsburgh attempted to intervene on our behalf with Ms Huk as well. She would not talk to him.

As a result of the Daily News coverage, I have decided to post all of the correspondence — dating back to 2009 — that has been sent to city officials, Ms Huk and Mr. Bresnahan.

Decide for yourself who’s being unreasonable. I don’t think it’s me, I don’t think it’s McKeesport Heritage Center, and I don’t think it’s the City of McKeesport or its Redevelopment Authority.

The ball and the opportunity are both in your court, Mary Ann Huk.

Respectfully,
Jason Togyer

THE PENN-McKEE HOTEL: Vital Statistics and Narrative History

Compiled For:
Arthur P. Ziegler, Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation
Mayor James Brewster, City of McKeesport

Date: Jan. 13, 2010

Compiler: Jason Togyer

Read PENN-McKEE HOTEL: Vital Statistics and Narrative History

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