New management aims to restore Heights Plaza's 'past glory' — and its name
Filling potholes and empty storefronts are among the problems the court-appointed new management of Harrison Town Square plans to take on right away.
They’re also going back to the shopping center’s historical name, Heights Plaza, or some variation of it, Richard Lubkin, principal and manager of Pretium Property Management, said Wednesday.
Lubkin said the vast majority of customers, tenants and government officials he talked to recently call it Heights Plaza.
“Far be it from us to come up with some artificial construct for what it should or shouldn’t be called,” he said. “For all practical purposes, we will call it Heights Plaza.”
The sign bearing “Harrison Town Square,” which went up in March 2017, will likely come down soon. “It was an arbitrary name that never stuck,” he said.
An Allegheny County Common Pleas judge recently named Pretium, headquartered in White Plains, N.Y., as receiver for the shopping plaza. That action follows property owner Wild Blue Management defaulting on its mortgage.
Pretium is an affiliate of Benbrooke Realty Investment, a specialized commercial property investment firm. Benbrooke, also based in White Plains, has managed distressed shopping centers and office buildings since 1992 and has redeveloped properties in Pennsylvania and across the U.S.
“Pretium and its affiliate companies have a long and highly successful track record in commercial property turnarounds,” Lubkin said. “The lender (Valvest) sought us out for our expertise and leadership in the field. We are fully confident in our abilities to meet the needs of the Natrona Heights and Harrison Township communities.”
This is Benbrooke’s first project in the Pittsburgh area, Lubkin said.
Lubkin will be the primary receiver representative and asset manager of the property. David Niven, chief operating officer of Pretium, will be the primary property manager overseeing day-to-day operation of the shopping center.
Lubkin said a locally based facilities manager and a local leasing firm will be hired.
“Our goal is to bring vitality back to the center,” he said. “We do intend to recommence marketing efforts for the vacant space.”
Lubkin said he is aware of the shopping plaza’s importance to the community.
“One of the things we’ve learned is that this particular commercial property is the center of Natrona Heights and the center of the entire township,” he said. “It’s the place where most residents shop and do other commercial functions, get health care or do their banking. It’s such an incredibly significant part of that community that we need to make sure that we are sensitive to the perception of the local citizens. Part of that is ensuring something as simple as the name is something that the local community is comfortable with.”
Lubkin said residents can expect to see work start soon on the parking lot, building facade and the signs. Because they missed the season for asphalt, he said temporary repairs will be made on the parking lot until major paving work can be undertaken in the spring.
“We will also need to address failing roofs and the rehabilitation of some vacant suites,” he said.
Lubkin said Pretium hopes to have some results within six months. Turning around a shopping center generally takes three years, sometimes longer, he said.
“We recognize that many years of deterioration will not be resolved in a day but that slow and steady steps will help restore some of the past glory,” he said.
Lubkin said Valvest has agreed to provide funding for certain immediate repairs, improvements and leasing costs.
“Frankly, the community should be extraordinarily appreciative that the lender wishes to reinvigorate Heights Plaza, as opposed to the abandonment we have seen in other parts of the country,” he said.
The mortgage remains in default and the property is continuing to foreclosure, which Lubkin said will likely happen in 2019.
“Our job is to manage the property as efficiently and professionally as possible during this transitionary period,” Lubkin said. “The foreclosure process is out of our control.”
Brian Rittmeyer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Brian at 724-226-4701, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BCRittmeyer.