Ten stories high with many more to tell, the Washington Trust Building continues to stand tall. It is the highest vertical structure in the city of Washington, 154 feet, a yard higher than Washington County Courthouse – and equally distinctive.
The exterior of the venerable structure is weather-beaten, betraying its age. The first-floor façade is in need of a makeover, which is planned, but only after funding can be secured. Yet it stands with broad shoulders, not stooped, a testament to its durability. The place remains a comfortable home to a number of established business tenants.
Yet if you stepped inside right now, you wouldn’t believe the building is nearly a century old. Many of the former offices have been converted into spiffy apartments, six weeks or so from occupancy, and other work spaces have been renovated as well, for office or retail use. The tower has a new roof.
Thanks to an ongoing redo, Washington Trust Building is increasingly looking as if it were 97 years young, not old. The complex sits regally at the corner of South Main and East Beau streets, across from the courthouse, and renovations began in October 2017. While more work is ahead, the project is much closer to the wire than the starting gate.
“More than $10 million has been invested to reposition this important architectural building. We hope to bring it back to some semblance of its former glory,” said Bill Gatti, president of Trek Development Group, a Pittsburgh-based developer that has owned the Trust Building since 2013.
Funding included tax credits from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency totaling $689,232 and a low-interest loan of $279,000 in city funds, approved by Washington Council. Both funding sources were acquired in the summer of 2016. The city also has worked with the county Redevelopment Authority.
The glory of the structure at 6 South Main traces back to 1902, when the front portion of the Trust Building was completed. Work on the annex/tower was finished in 1922. The building’s style is described as Beaux Arts – Beaux on East Beau, ironically. The site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
About two dozen one-bedroom apartments have been built on floors two through 10 of the tower, targeted for working people and seniors who qualify under income requirements. Gatti said last week that a certificate of occupancy had not yet been secured, and that water service had to be upgraded and elevators updated. “But we expect that to be completed in the next 30 days. We should be moving in the first residents on or about March 1.”
Pittsburgh-based LAB8 collaborated with Clearscapes of Raleigh, N.C., on design of the units.
“There’s been robust interest in residential leasing,” Gatti said. “We expect to be leased up very quickly.”
About 15 to 20 office tenants remain in the original building, where office/retail leasing is underway. Darin Shriver, a real estate consultant with Beynon & Co. of Pittsburgh, is in charge of leasing those spaces. He recently signed his first tenant: Guy Reschenthaler, R-Jefferson Hills, a recently sworn-in U.S. representative. He will have a field office on street level, adjacent to Courthouse Café.
The 14th District rep and staffers, however, have not moved in. Stacey Reibach, Reschenthaler’s director of district operations, estimates that the office will be open in a few weeks.
Finding other clients is a task that Shriver, a Washington High School graduate, embraces. “The best thing I can do is get the word out that we’re leasing,” said Shriver, who often works out of an office in Canonsburg.
The Trust Building, Shriver added, offers an appealing enticement to would-be tenants. “Parking is a challenge in the city,” he said, “but we have parking for residents and office employees.”
Trek became his client in December. The developer is known for restoring and repurposing historic buildings in Southwestern Pennsylvania, including the Brew House Lofts in the former Duquesne Brewery on Pittsburgh’s South Side, and construction in the “Neck” area in downtown Brownsville. The latter features conversion of the former G.C. Murphy department store into an apartment complex and construction of an attached senior citizen apartment complex with 24 units.
Although the Trust Building project is not complete, Gatti eagerly envisions what is immediately ahead. “There will be some very visible and positive changes over the next three or four months,” he said. “We will restore the historic storefront, clean and repoint the façade facing the courthouse. We will redo the main lobby as well.”
This project has inspired a rousing endorsement from the city’s top official. “We’re really pleased. We have had no issues,” Mayor Scott Putnam said. “Trek has been great to work with. Everything we have asked for has been done. When public officials aren’t involved, it’s a good project.”
He praises the importance of this renovation, saying, “It is nice to see redevelopment in Washington.” But Putnam is quick to point out that it isn’t the only endeavor that has launched in the county seat in recent times.
“We’re very proud of what’s been happening in the city,” he said. “Thirteen new businesses have opened downtown in the past three years. People are wanting to invest in downtown.”
Rehabbing the Washington Trust Building has been a formidable investment, one that could pay dividends beyond restoration of a historic treasure. It could result in more residential and commercial vibrance.