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New owners of Waterfront plan upgrades, eye other properties in the region

| Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

One of the new owners of the Waterfront shopping complex is planning millions in upgrades, and has intentions of buying other properties in the region

“We like Pittsburgh, have been interested in the region for several years, and would consider buying similar properties, as well as possibly a Downtown office building,” said Martin Sweeney, vice president of acquisitions for M&J Wilkow Ltd. of Chicago.

Wilkow, along with BIG Shopping CentersUSA of California, acquired the center this week from Developers Diversified Realty Corp. of Beachwood, Ohio, for a price in excess of $85.4 million.

Before any additional acquisitions occur, Sweeney said his company's first priority is to improve the Waterfront.

“The lighting, increasing energy efficiency, taking care of the parking areas and the landscaping, which will showcase the center,” he said in an interview Friday.

“Our first project, over the next month and a half, will be improving the lighting,” he said.

While occupancy at the Waterfront is 90 percent, “we plan to bring new tenants into the shopping center, to fill vacant spaces, and are currently negotiating with several retailers, all of them familiar to the Pittsburgh region.”

Any new tenant probably won't open until spring, he said. He declined to identify them until leases are signed.

Also on the owners' agenda is improving the sales at existing tenants.

“Pittsburgh is a strong trade area, and we plan to work with our tenants to have better sales,” said Stanley McElroy Jr., BIG Shopping Center's president, in a statement.

Spokeswoman Jenn Weyand of BouncePath Marketing in Atlanta said McElroy said shoppers at the Waterfront will see “a very different approach to the way we operate, all with the concept to keep the center a regional destination.”

He was not available for further comment.

Sweeney said an issue that has concerned officials of the three municipalities — Munhall, West Homestead and Homestead — where the Waterfront is located, remains open.

The issue is who will handle maintenance of the roads, sidewalks and other public areas within the center once terms of a 1998 agreement with the original developers are fullfilled next year.

“We have had numerous meetings with officials of these boroughs and feel we have a good working arrangement with them,” Sweeney said.

Whenever the agreement requires them to take over maintenane, we will work out an orderly transition that will be beneficial to all parties, he said.

“We recognize they have budget restraints, and we are sensitive to adding on to their strained capacity,” he said.

Officials of all three boroughs have said their limited budgets and small street departments would not be able to take on about two miles of roads, two ramps to a major bridge, hundreds of sewers, streetlights and traffic signals to maintain.

Money paid into a maintenance fund by the owners, established in the 1998 agreement is used for repairs. U.S. Bank is the trustee of the fund. Payment requests for needed repairs or improvements by the owner are submitted to the trustee who in turn asks county officials to determine if the repairs are necessary. If the county approves, the trustee releases money to the owner.

“We are working with the municipalities and the owner to determine the future use of these funds, how they will be best utilized and benefit both the shopping center and the municipal governments,” said Robert Hurley, deputy director, Allegheny County Department of Economic Development.

Sam Spatter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7843 or sspatter@tribweb.com.

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