Apartment construction started in Washington Trust Building project

Michael Bradwell
Observer Reporter

If all goes as planned, there will be two dozen new one-bedroom apartments for rent in the middle of downtown Washington by the end of the year.

Vanessa Murphy, project manager for Pittsburgh-based Trek Development Group’s Washington Trust Building at the corner of South Main and East Beau streets, said last week a demolition of floors two through 10 of the building’s tower that began in October is nearing completion and that framing for some of the 24 apartment units has begun. The apartments were designed by the Pittsburgh architectural firm LAB8 in collaboration with Clearscapes Architect + Art from North Carolina.

For the past several months, those viewing the project from lower East Beau Street have seen a large flexible orange tube at the rear of the tower used for carrying debris from the demolition to dumpsters.

The new units will have a certificate of occupancy by December, Murphy said, adding that rents will be based on a formula based “on a percentage of income for Washington County residents,” and will be directed to working people as well as seniors who qualify under the income requirements.

The units will range in size from 690 to 750 square feet, and Murphy said monthly rents will begin at around $600.

She said the cost of the residential tower project is in excess of $10 million, of which construction costs are more than $7.8 million.

In addition to construction of the apartments, a new roof has been placed on top of the tower’s 10th floor and another one will eventually top the penthouse, “which had too many patches on it,” Murphy said. She said the penthouse will have two apartments, a management suite and a community room for use by all of the building’s residents. The second floor of the tower will have a laundry room and fitness area.

Trek Development, which specializes in restoring and repurposing historic buildings in the Pittsburgh region, has been the owner of the Trust Building since 2013.

In May 2016, it obtained conditional use approval from the City of Washington’s planning commission to convert the 10-story annex portion of the building into the one-bedroom units. Trek also had the building – whose front portion was completed in 1902 and the tower in 1922 – placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“We respect the fact that it’s an icon for the city,” Murphy said, acknowledging that the building is an anchor for downtown.

Murphy and Dana McFarland, property manager for the building, said work is also progressing on the original building, where a new HVAC system is in place and a new roof will be placed on the top of the sixth floor and on the second floor. Elevators in the building will also be modernized.

“There’s a lot of deferred maintenance” that requires attention, McFarland said. She added that Trek plans to do a new façade on the ground floor “to bring back the original look of the building.” She said restrooms and plumbing will be upgraded as well as the electrical system.

One of the biggest structural challenges, according to Murphy, was the construction of an interior staircase that connects the two buildings.

In July 2016 the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency put together the tax credits totaling $689,232 to convert the annex, built in 1922, to accommodate a mixture of commercial and residential space with the construction of the apartments.

In August 2016, Washington City Council approved a low-interest loan of $279,000 of city funds to Trek to go toward renovations in the original building at 6 S. Main St.

“They are tax-credit apartments,” Murphy said, explaining that Trek will get a limited partner to invest in the credits and become a member of the management team. She stressed that the apartments will always be based on an income formula requirement that will keep rents affordable for working people and seniors.

Trek’s portfolio includes a number of projects that often combine historic buildings with modern amenities in urban settings. Projects include the Century Building in downtown Pittsburgh, which includes nine floors of residential housing; the 76-unit Brew House Lofts in the South Side in the former Duquesne Brewery; Dinwiddie Street in the Hill District, a combination of new construction and historic restoration; and an $8 million investment in downtown Brownsville’s “Neck” area that involved remaking the former G.C. Murphy Co. building into an apartment complex as well as the construction of an attached four-story building that houses 24 senior citizen apartments.

Despite the many infrastructure upgrades at the Trust Building, both women said every effort is being made to preserve the original wood and glass in the offices to maintain the historical aspects of the building.

Murphy said each of the projects, while focusing on preserving their historic features, are unique in their concept and require great care to complete.

“We like these, although they’re extremely challenging,” she said.