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Millions could go to revamp landmark Union Trust Building

By Ron DaParma
Tuesday, February 19, 2008

An investment group that paid $24.1 million to buy the ornate Union Trust Building plans to spend “several million dollars” more to bring the landmark structure back to life.

The group, led by executives of the Mika Realty Group in Los Angeles, promises to refurbish the nearly empty, block-long structure at 501 Grant St., Downtown, and restock its 595,000-plus square feet of rentable space with new office and retail tenants.

“We really want to bring something wonderful to the city. This is a once-in-a-lifetime location. The building is irreplaceable, so we want to get it right,” said Rick Barreca, CEO of Mika Realty.

“I’d like to see a retail bank come into the ground floor, and I’d like to see a nice restaurant,” said Barreca. “We want to have a mix that everybody in the building will be able to take advantage of, and that people in the surrounding area will be happy to come to.”

Hopes are that Larrimor’s, the upscale clothing retailer that occupies a prominent corner at Grant Street and Fifth Avenue, will continue its long relationship with the building, he said.
Barreca is one of the investors in the group headed Michael Kamen, founder of privately held Mika, and a business associate, Gerson Fox of Los Angeles.

They’ve hired the Pittsburgh-area architectural firm of Burt Hill Kosar Rittelmann Associates to design the upgrade.

Plans are to clean the building’s facade and install new exterior lighting, signage and new windows on the ground level retail area that rings the building, topping them with decorative glass awnings. The building would get its first on-site parking with 60 new spaces planned on one of its two sub-basement levels accessible from William Penn Place.

Planned lobby improvements include a new security desk, benches and a new lighting package to brighten space underneath the colorful rotunda. Lighting will highlight ceiling mosaic tiles and stained glass above several building entry points.

“We’re working with a historic consultant on the exterior to be careful not to disturb any of the historic features,” Kosar said.

“We’re also looking at adding new artwork and possibly some displays that could be changed seasonally, Barreca said.

The Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation is happy with Mika’s plans for the building, said Arthur P. Ziegler Jr., president of the South Side preservationist organization. The foundation has offered to work with the developers to help them secure historic tax credits for some of the renovation work, if the group decides to pursue them, he said.

Designed in Flemish Gothic style by noted Pittsburgh architect F.J. Osterling and built in 1916 for industrialist Henry Clay Frick, the building opened in 1917 as the Union Arcade, an upscale, indoor mall with 238 shops and more than 700 office tenants.

In 1922, it came to be owned by Union Trust Co., and after a 1946 merger, by Mellon National Bank and Trust Co., predecessor to Mellon Financial Corp., now Bank of New York Mellon.

Mellon decided to vacate its substantial presence in the building in May 2006 and DeBartolo Property Group LLC, the owner since 1984, stopped aggressive efforts to keep other tenants, leaving it in its present state.

It eventually defaulted on its mortgage, and ownership passed to Philadelphia-based insurance firm Cigna Corp., holder of the loan.

Chances to fill the building’s office space have likely improved thanks to a recent tightening of the Downtown office market. And interest in both the office and retail space has been high, said Jeffrey Ackerman, a commercial real estate broker with CB Richard Ellis/Pittsburgh.

Ackerman represented Cigna in a nationwide marketing effort to find a buyer for the building and brokered the deal with the purchasing group.

Ron DaParma can be reached at or 412-320-7907.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Phone: 412-471-5808  |  Fax: 412-471-1633