Boston developer Davis Companies buys Union Trust Building
A Boston developer with Pittsburgh ties bought Downtown’s Union Trust Building for $14 million on Monday, ending a drawn-out legal battle over the landmark but providing no clues about its future.
“We are evaluating our purchase of the building, regarding its future use and hope to make a decision within a month or two,” said Jonathan Davis, founder and CEO of Boston’s The Davis Companies, which bought the Union Trust Building at a sheriff’s sale.
Davis said he’s considering office, retail, residential and hotel development for the property.
“It could be an overwhelmingly awesome hotel space, and I also could see it as a good residential play,” said Edward Shriver, a principal with Strada Architecture, Downtown, who is not associated with the Union Trust sale.
Shriver said the building is “more problematic” for office space because of its atrium.
“You don’t find too many office buildings today with holes in the middle of them,” he said.
Lawrenceville architect Luke Desmone of Desmone & Associates perceives potential for redevelopment that includes offices, apartments and a boutique hotel on upper floors. He called the building “one of the classic Pittsburgh buildings that absolutely deserves to be treated like the royalty that it is.”
At least three Downtown office buildings are partially converting into hotels: a Hotel Monaco in the former Reed Smith Building, Embassy Suites in the Oliver Building and a Drury Inn & Suites in the former Federal Reserve Bank.
The Davis Companies’ bid was $1 million higher than one by an unidentified bidder.
Davis has developed properties in 12 states along the East Coast, mostly in New England. Much of the work is developments that have retail, residential and office space. Signature projects include the $300 million redevelopment of Boston’s Charles River Plaza and renovation of the city’s historic Exeter Street Theatre for stores and offices.
This is the firm’s first purchase in Pittsburgh, said Downtown attorney David Lampl of Leech Tishman Fuscaldo & Lampl, who represented the developer at the sale.
Davis grew up in Western Pennsylvania and attended Taylor Allderdice High School in Squirrel Hill. His mother lives in Pittsburgh.
“Probably now I’ll visit Pittsburgh more than in the past,” Davis, 61, said.
Pittsburgh industrialist Henry Clay Frick constructed the 11-story building with distinctive Gothic exterior and stained-glass central rotunda nearly 100 years ago. It started as a four-story arcade with 240 shops and space for 700 offices above. The arcade flopped, and Frick sold the building at Grant Street and Fifth Avenue to the Union Trust Co. in the early 1920s.
Today, it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places but is largely unoccupied. Davis said about 39 percent of the building is leased, almost all to Siemens Corp. Other tenants include first-floor businesses Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches and First Commonwealth Bank.
Siemens, which declined to comment, lost a court battle last year to reduce its space from four floors to two. The court held the company to a 10-year lease that expires in 2019.
U.S. Bank began foreclosure proceedings in 2012 upon winning a $41.4 million judgment against 501 Grant Street Partners, a partnership created by Gerson Fox and Michael Kamen of Los Angeles. Subsequent bankruptcy filings delayed the sale, but a decision by a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge in California in December cleared the way for the sale.