Rugby Realty acquires Koppers Tower

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Aaron Stauber has added to his collection of Grant Street masterpieces.

Rugby Realty, Mr. Stauber's company, completed its purchase of the 34-story Koppers Tower late Monday, paying $17.2 million for one of Downtown's most distinctive properties.

With the acquisition, New Rochelle, N.Y.-based Rugby now owns three of the most iconic buildings on Grant Street -- Koppers, the Frick Building and Gulf Tower. Mr. Stauber said he views them as the crown jewels of Grant Street.

"I'm smiling. I love great architecture. To be able to own the buildings that we own, I'm humble and proud at the same time. These architects built the finest buildings in the world. To be able to own these is a real privilege," he said.

Rugby purchased Koppers Tower, an art deco skyscraper with a chateau roof made of copper and a lobby of colored marble, from Koppers Building Holdings Inc., which bought it for $13.2 million in 1997.

The new owner takes over a 360,000-square-foot property with a 30 percent vacancy rate. Mr. Stauber, Rugby's president, said the company has a plan to make improvements to the space to boost the occupancy.

A key element of that plan is to completely rehabilitate floors 24, 25 and 27, all of which are empty. Mr. Stauber said each floor is 7,600 square feet. Rugby intends to upgrade the space without first securing tenants. "I think when tenants come in, it's going to be jaw dropping," he said.

Rugby also will install a new fitness center for tenants, renovate a ninth-floor conference room and add the latest technology to a skyscraper that was completed in 1929. The new owner also plans to create a shuttle service to be shared between Koppers and the adjacent Gulf Tower to take tenants around Downtown.

Mr. Stauber has secured a letter of intent with a food retailer to fill a street-level retail space at Grant and Seventh, a site he said has been vacant for three decades. "We're confident that we'll be able to make that deal happen," he said.

Despite the high vacancy rate, the skyscraper is still home to its namesake, the Koppers Co., as well as tenants such as the Allegheny County Bar Association, the Blumling & Gusky law firm, and the Horovitz, Rudoy & Roteman accounting firm.

Turning around underachieving properties has become a specialty of the New York company, which owns a number of buildings Downtown.

Rugby bought 11 Stanwix, the former Westinghouse building, in 2008 when that structure was less than 50 percent occupied and sold it two years ago for $66.6 million at 95 percent occupancy. It acquired the property through a deed in lieu of foreclosure.

When it purchased the Frick Building in 2005, that building was half empty. Rugby cleaned the marble, polished the brass, rehabbed the elevators and made other improvements. The structure is now more than 90 percent filled.

Rugby also bought three Penn Center West buildings last year when they were half or less than half vacant and has since boosted the occupancy to 95 percent in one and 100 percent in the other two. It also acquired the former Birmingham Towers officer tower on the South Side last year when it was 35 percent full and has since increased that to 85 percent.

Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.


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