The reopening of the former Daily News Building as the "Tube City Center for Business and Innovation" is a signal that McKeesport officials want to direct their focus to revitalizing the city's Downtown area.
"We have development coming in at all different corners of town --- in Christy Park, on East Fifth Avenue, and RIDC is going to be out with a big announcement within the next 30 days," McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko said at Monday's ribbon cutting ceremony. "Up and down the Walnut Street corridor, we have new businesses and construction."
One part of the city hasn't seen that level of activity: Downtown. "That's the part of town we're here about today," Cherepko said.
More than 300 residents and business owners packed the lobby of the former Daily News Building at the corner of Lysle Boulevard and Walnut Street for the ceremony, hosted by Cherepko and state Sen. Jim Brewster.
The building now houses a regional center for the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office; classroom space for Point Park University; an office for Tube City Community Media and a radio studio for its Internet station, WMCK.FM; and the offices of Flashover Fire Apparatus.
The Monessen-based Mon Valley Independent newspaper, which expanded its reach into McKeesport in May 2017, also announced they will have a bureau in the building.
Dennis Davin, Pennsylvania Secretary of Community and Economic Development, spent more than two hours touring the city with Cherepko and Brewster before the ceremony.
"We had a chance to look at some really significant projects here," Davin said. "There are going to be some great things happening in McKeesport. You're going to see things starting to happen."
The department in 2018 awarded a $2.9 million grant to the city for a package of improvements in the Downtown area, including upgrades to the Great Allegheny Passage hiking-biking trail, renovation of the Daily News Building, and the planned renovation and reopening of the adjacent Lysle Boulevard parking garage.
Cherepko and other speakers credited Brewster's vision --- and his personal friendship with Tribune-Review publisher Richard Mellon Scaife, who died in 2014 --- with saving the Daily News Building and getting it into the city's hands.
Brewster "was like a bulldog on a bone," said state Sen. Jay Costa, the senate's Democratic minority leader. "He made the case about how important this was, and he was successful."
After the Tribune-Review closed the Daily News at the end of 2015, Cherepko said he and Brewster talked frequently about strategies to attract another daily newspaper to McKeesport, or failing that, reusing the building for other purposes.
"It was through the persistence and dedication that the senator had in the planning stages that we were able to reach out," Cherepko said. "And it was (Trib Total Media's) unbelievable generosity that made this happen. The city wasn't really in the position to purchase the building, as much as we wanted to see it reopened."
In 2017, the company sold the building to the city for a symbolic $1.
Jennifer Bertetto, chief executive officer of Trib Total Media, said the decision to close the Daily News was "an incredible loss" to the company and McKeesport.
Scaife purchased the newspaper in 2007 from the parent company of the Latrobe Bulletin, which in turn had purchased it from its longtime publishers, the Mansfield family.
"McKeesport meant everything" to Scaife, said Bertetto, a few feet away from an oil painting of the late billionaire philanthropist. After purchasing the Daily News, Scaife became very interested in the city of McKeesport, donating money to local charities, including the LaRosa Boys and Girls Club, and giving the city $350,000 toward demolition of abandoned and blighted properties.
In 2008, Scaife was invited to serve as grand marshal of the city's Salute to Santa parade.
"When Sen. Brewster came to me to discuss the donation of this building to the city's redevelopment authority, and of all of the ways it could be used to create a stronger community, I knew it was exactly what Mr. Scaife would have wanted me to do," Bertetto said.
Several speakers noted that the Daily News Building is designed to serve as a regional facility, not just a McKeesport project. The district attorney's office is using its first-floor space, in an area formerly used by the Daily News for advertising representatives, to train police officers, monitor a network of security cameras and provide meeting space for prosecutors and detectives.
The facility is expected to serve police from 31 different Allegheny County municipalities.
"Having grown up in Swissvale, it was a no-brainer to me to invest in the people of the Mon Valley," Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. said. "You have some very excellent police officers here, but unfortunately, they haven't always had the resources they needed. Well, we're going to invest in policing.
"We couldn't do this without everyone here in the room," Zappala said. "When you guys stand together you are very strong. There is no doubt about it."
Besides Costa, Davin and Zappala, other speakers included Nazareth Victoria, a member of the ownership team behind the Mon Valley Independent; Andrew Conte, director of Point Park's Center for Media Innovation; Gisele Fetterman, wife of Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman; and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.
Local officials in the crowd included Braddock Mayor Chardae Jones, Duquesne Mayor Nickole Nesby, Elizabeth Borough Mayor Barry Boucher, North Versailles Twp. commissioners Sam Juliano and George Thompson, Port Vue Mayor Brien Hranics and White Oak Mayor Ina Jean Marton.
Also present were state Reps. Bill Kortz and Austin Davis, Allegheny County Councilman Bob Macey, RIDC President Don Smith Jr., UPMC East and UPMC McKeesport CEO Mark O'Hearn and Port Authority CEO Katherine Kellerman.
In his remarks, Conte singled out Keno Fitzpatrick of McKeesport's Youth C.A.S.T. leadership network, who, along with Martha Rial, a Pulitzer Prize winning photographer formerly with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, has been working to teach photography and interviewing skills to young people from the McKeesport area.
Some of the stories they gathered and photos they took are currently on display on the second floor of the former Daily News Building.
Fetterman said she was present not as the wife of the lieutenant governor, but as a resident of the Mon Valley.
"In the valley, we're used to celebrating small wins, but here today, we're celebrating a big win," she said.
Jason Togyer is volunteer executive director of Tube City Community Media Inc. and editor of Tube City Almanac. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published February 13, 2019.