July 31, 2008

It’s a Wrap: WRS Film Lab Complex Being Sold

By Ron DaParma, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Jul. 31--Thousands of movies, including original copies of Hollywood cult classics such as "Night of the Living Dead," are long gone, and the stage is set for a new saga at a large, local complex that once housed them.

The former WRS Motion Picture and Video Laboratory building, once one of the few large film printing, processing, storage and restoration companies outside of Hollywood, is being purchased by the Sampson-Morris Group of Monroeville for about $3.1 million.

"We have a sale agreement on the building and hope to close within two weeks," said Michael Morris, president of the development company.

Long identified with Crafton, the 23.1-acre property at 1000 Napor Blvd. is located mainly in Pittsburgh's 28th Ward, with a small portion in neighboring Robinson.

Morris said he hopes to attract industrial tenants to the WRS complex, which has 19- and 29-foot-high ceilings.

The transaction will end a lengthy process that included clearing the facility of its many films, said Ned Doran, executive vice president of GVA Oxford, the commercial real estate arm of Oxford Development Co. He represented Sun Life Assurance Co. of Canada, the current owner, and marketed the complex.

Sun Life was the mortgage holder and became owner after WRS ran into financial problems and entered its second bankruptcy in 2006.

"There were several hundred thousand films, including from major Hollywood studios such as Fox, Disney and Sony, from colleges and universities, companies, and government agencies such as the FBI and NASA," Doran said.

"It was mind-boggling. There were rows and rows of films stored in silver containers," Doran said.

WRS was started in 1952 as a small Downtown office producing chemicals and industrial films. But it grew to a 43-acre complex along the bank of Chartiers Creek.

The architect of that growth was Jack Napor, who joined the company as business manager in 1958, and took over as owner in 1961 when the founder, Warren R. Smith, left the business.

During prosperous times, WRS employed 200 people and was described as one of the industry's most complete film and video laboratories.

Doran said it took almost two years to clear the building. GVA contacted film owners and advertised in Variety and other trade publications in the effort, which concluded with removal of the final films in January.

Morris said he was represented in the transaction by Patrick Sentner, commercial real estate broker with NAI Commercial.

"The site's proximity to Interstate 79 both north and south and to downtown Pittsburgh make this an attractive location for an industrial user," said Doran.

The complex consists of four buildings: a 185,000-square-foot main industrial building with 19 truck docks, a 13,000-square-foot office building attached, and two smaller structures.

Sampson-Morris Group owns several million square feet of local property. It is in the process of adding another 1 million square feet, including WRS, a recently announced purchase of Wholey's cold storage building at 1500 Penn Ave. in the Strip District, and other deals not yet completed.


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