Heights Plaza receiver reports early progress righting 'sinking ship'
A receiver appointed to take over operation of the Heights Plaza shopping center in Harrison reports making early progress “to right the sinking ship.”
An Allegheny County judge in October named Pretium Property Management of White Plains, N.Y., as receiver of the distressed shopping center, also known as Harrison Town Square, after Wild Blue Management defaulted 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.
“I’m impressed with what they’re doing,” township Commissioner Chuck Dizard said. “We’ll see what they do next. Personally, I’m very encouraged. I’m hopeful and the township is really responding positively.”
In its quarterly report to the court covering November and December, Pretium manager Richard Lubkin said that taking over the property has been “extraordinarily difficult.”
“The shopping center has suffered from severe physical negligence, tenant relations are extremely challenged (as many have been on ‘rent-strike’), the financial condition is tenuous, many vendors have refused to work on the project due to the history or reputation of non-payment, local government agencies have marked the property with numerous violations, and community perception is very negative,” Lubkin wrote in the report to the court.
However, Lubkin found a positive side in that “all constituents appear to be enthusiastic about the receivership, and our team is making initial inroads to right the sinking ship.”
Reached by email Friday, Lubkin said he did not have further comment beyond what was in the report.
In the report, Lubkin said collections for the property from Oct. 26 to Dec. 31 were poor. About $187,600 was collected — about half of what was expected. It consisted of rent payments and money turned over from the lender’s post-default rent collection program.
The plaza’s current assets were reported at about $87,000 of operating cash.
“First quarter 2019 collections are off to a much better start as we have gathered some of the old rents,” Lubkin wrote. “Unfortunately, we believe some of the occupying tenants may be non-viable, as rent collections may not be possible.”
He added that they will need to determine “the eviction timing for such tenants, recognizing that overall property viability is of paramount importance.”
The property is suffering from severe deferred maintenance and neglect, Lubkin said. He said they have set out to fix major problems affecting life, safety and commercial viability, which has included repairing potholes, crumbling wall elevations, deteriorating pylon signs, roof leaks and faulty electrical conditions.
“It’s an improvement, obviously,” Harrison commissioners President William Heasley said. “Going through that parking lot was like going through a minefield. I’d like to see them do something behind the bank (First Commonwealth), between the bank and Sheldon Park. It’s really bad there. The potholes are horrendous. You might lose a truck there.”
Heasley said he was happy to see some awnings put up and hopes to see the marquee signs fixed.
“It would be nice to see them get some more tenants in there,” he said.
Heasley said the plaza is very important to the township, and the township will work with the shopping center’s permanent managers.
With the problems faced by the Pittsburgh Mills mall in Frazer, he said now would be a good time to bring the plaza back — and shoppers would come back if the right shops are there.
“They seem to be going in the right direction,” he said. “I hope some progress is being made and we can get that up and going quickly.”
Pretium has hired Maser Consulting to begin an engineering analysis of the property. CBRE has been hired to act as the exclusive leasing agent for the property, and Pretium is working with existing tenants to renew leases.
“Although this is an extremely challenged property, the receiver believes that we have appropriately addressed the initial concerns and are diligently working towards a formation and execution of an appropriate long-term asset management plan,” Lubkin wrote.
Brian Rittmeyer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Brian at 724-226-4701, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BCRittmeyer.