New owner to renovate ‘tired’ Park­way Center buildings

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Robbie Oppenheim has another reason to come home these days. Make that seven of them, actually.

Mr. Oppenheim, who grew up in Squirrel Hill, is part of the ownership group that closed on the purchase of seven buildings in the Parkway Center complex Wednesday with the promise of extensive overhauls involving everything from ceilings to door knobs.

“Every single surface that we can bring to today’s standards is being done,” he said.

The face-lifts will involve buildings 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 9 and 10 — all of which were purchased by PWC Pitt LLC, a joint venture featuring Market Street Real Estate Partners of Miami and Chicago-based JDI Realty, a real estate investment firm.

No price was disclosed, although the buildings are believed to have sold for close to $40 million. The seller, a partnership group led by Lee Baierl, had been seeking $49 million.

PG graphic: Parkway Center
(Click image for larger version)

There’s no doubt the properties are in need of attention. Their overall occupancy rate is about 71 percent in a tight market where the average rate is above 90 percent.

Mr. Oppenheim described the buildings as “tired” but also sees great potential in them given their location immediately off the Parkway West and within minutes of Downtown. He sees them as part of the Downtown fringe — without the parking charges.

“We think that is a very big plus,” he said.

He noted that Market Street Real Estate Partners specializes in taking underperforming real estate and turning it around. As such, the Parkway Center properties should be right in its comfort zone, he said.

“We buy assets. We renovate them. We stabilize them,” he said.

The first order of business will be the upgrades, which are expected to start in July and take six to nine months to complete.

Mr. Oppenheim said the new owner expects to spend several million dollars renovating the properties. All of the buildings will receive top-to-bottom improvements, including new lobbies, LED lighting, rest rooms, ceilings, walls, floors and, yes, even door knobs.

To increase the curb appeal of building 10, which is visible from the parkway, PWC plans to triple the size of its windows. “It will look very much like a building you would want to be in today,” Mr. Oppenheim said.

PWC also plans to spruce up the landscaping and entrances to the complex and upgrade the signs.

The plan is to have at least some of the renovations completed before the new owner starts a full court press to boost occupancy so that potential tenants will have a taste of what they will be leasing.

“With some patience, we think we will be able to move rents higher because it will be a different product,” Mr. Oppenheim said. “We want people to see what we’ve done.”

The new owner will be teaming with the Colliers International real estate firm to lease the space. Colliers also represented both the buyer and the seller in the sale, managing director Gregg Broujos said.

Mr. Broujos sees Parkway Center becoming more a “lifestyle” complex given recent changes, including a fully renovated hotel, a new 272-unit apartment project taking hold behind it, and a possible re-purposing of the Parkway Center Mall owned by Kossman Development Co.

“That’s what we’re selling now. It’s a new Parkway Center,” he said.

Despite the low occupancy rates for the office buildings, Mr. Oppenheim said he is heartened that they weren’t lower given that they haven’t “had any improvement in many years.” He believes vacancies would have been higher “had it not been a strong location.”

The Parkway Center properties represent Market Street’s second purchase in the region. It also owns the 121 Champion Way office building in Southpointe.

For Mr. Oppenheim, the latest acquisition not only makes good business sense but means more frequent trips to Pittsburgh, where he grew up, got married and saw both of his children born before moving to the Miami area. He and his family still root for the Steelers, the Penguins and the Pirates (his uncle. Joseph Finegold, was the Pirates team doctor for more than three decades).

“Having a reason to be there every other week, that makes it special,” he said of his latest deal.


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

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