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.

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