Category Archive: Downtown Development
Pop City Media
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
The Urban Redevelopment Authority has agreed to lease–with an option to sell–the 130,000-square-foot Fruit Auction Terminal Produce Building on Smallman Street in the Strip District. The Buncher Co. plans to turn the building into a thriving commercial space.
To purchase the building, Buncher must commit to building 75-units of residential housing on the 55-acres of surface parking behind the Terminal Building. The firm must also promise to preserve the historic architecture.
“The building really is at the end of its useful life. It needs anywhere from $6 to $10 million in capital improvements to bring it up to code and preserve it,” says Rob Stephany, executive director of the URA.
According to Stephany, Buncher is about 20% of the way into their planning process, having selected the renowned historic preservation architect Albert Feloni to create a master plan for the Terminal Building. Astorino is under contract to do the master plan for the vacant surface parking along the river between the convention center and 41st Street.
Once Buncher submits the master plans to the URA for review, the gears of construction can really start turning. Stephany says a recently conducted market analysis indicates the building would best benefit from restaurants, office, and showroom spaces on the platform, citing the Society for Contemporary Craft and The Pittsburgh Public Market as examples of forward-thinking reuse of these kinds of buildings.
As part of the project, the URA and the City recently rezoned part of the Strip as a redevelopment area, causing concern from some neighborhood stakeholders who thought the URA might be preparing for eminent domain seizures. Stephany says that while this is certainly not the case, they didn’t do a good of a job in communicating their plans. Their intent was to make funds from investors more flexible.
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Writer: John Farley
Source: Rob Stephany, URA
Photograph copyright Brian Cohen
Pittsburgh Business Times – by Tim Schooley
Date: Thursday, December 9, 2010, 10:27am EST
In a bid to spark a transformational wave of development in the Strip District, Pittsburgh’s Urban Redevelopment Authority will vote on a plan to beat a path to the Allegheny riverfront this week through the red brick walls of the Pennsylvania Railroad Fruit Auction Terminal Building.
At its board meeting scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 9, the URA is expected to vote for the city to enter into an agreement in which it would lease the six-block-long building to the Buncher Co., giving the local development company an option to buy the property. A vote of approval by the mayor-appointed board is expected to provide Buncher with the opportunity to develop the building in tandem with a 75-unit apartment project on riverfront land Buncher owns behind the building, according to URA Executive Director Rob Stephany.
Stephany described the plan as a key move to kick-start development of approximately 55 acres Buncher owns that extend along Smallman Street and the Allegheny River from 11th to 23rd streets, a tract of largely undeveloped urban land he believed is as large as any of its kind in the country.
“The produce terminal is kind of at the end of its useful life. It needs to be part of something bigger,” Stephany said. “My gut tells me there’s a real strong appetite by the Buncher Co. to really begin this project in earnest.”
Calls to Buncher were not immediately returned.
Stephany said Buncher has demonstrated its commitment to push forward with development there by hiring MacLachlan, Cornelius & Filoni Inc. to handle the preservation and design for the renovation of the 130,000-square-foot terminal building, a project he estimated will cost from $7 million to $10 million. The redevelopment of the terminal building, now home to number of produce wholesalers as well as the Pittsburgh Public Market, which opened a few months ago, will serve as a gateway project that should allow Buncher to being to develop the 12 to 15 acres behind it that have been largely blocked from any new plans by the building.
The redevelopment will include building two access routes through the property, Stephany said, which he said was a requirement for making any new project behind the building viable.
“It’s so big and so long, if you did two penetrations to it, it’s almost negligible from an impact standpoint,” Stephany said, predicting the changes will concern preservationists.
Art Ziegler, president of Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, said his organization is supportive of the goal of redeveloping the building as well as establishing access through the building to enable development behind it, as long as that access is for pedestrians.
“We think that the building can be a landmark for the new project. It frames and defines the project,” Ziegler said. “We do not object to a pedestrian passage and maybe two. Our only objection is to make roadways (for cars) through the building.”
The building transaction is part of a larger collaboration between the city and Buncher. In the summer, the city reached an agreement with Buncher for a swap of properties that included the terminal building, a riverfront warehouse building in the 9th ward of Lawrenceville and the former Tippins steel property on the riverfront at the 62nd Street Bridge in Lawrenceville’s 10th ward.
Stephany said the URA continues to work with the building’s established produce wholesalers to identify potential new locations for them. He expects the building will be redeveloped for a host of office users, restaurants, studios and other uses, noting the terminal’s four-foot elevation above Smallman Street likely won’t work for retail. The infrastructure costs for the project have not yet been determined, Stephany said.
The URA also is working to establish a district for tax increment financing and redevelopment for the Strip District. Those proposals drew strong neighborhood criticism at a planning hearing on Dec. 7, and Stephany emphasized the TIF district and redevelopment zone are under consideration to improve the neighborhood’s eligibility for state and federal funds — and not for eminent domain.
Stephany said there is nothing in the city’s agreement with Buncher that guarantees the new Pittsburgh Public Market will remain in the building but that both the URA and Buncher are excited about its start and see it as part of a larger redevelopment plan. The time frame for Buncher’s development is not yet set.
“The end result of this isn’t going to be known for a while,” Stephany said.
Chuck Hammel, an owner of the nearby Cork Factory apartment building, described the URA’s plan to turn the terminal building over to Buncher as an important step in bringing new development to the neighborhood’s riverfront. One possible hurdle, he said, will be reaching a final agreement between Buncher and the Allegheny Valley Railroad over right-of-way issues, something Hammel hopes will be resolved for the good of everyone involved.
Hammel is working to develop a 90-unit apartment project near the almost fully occupied Cork Factory and said there is a steady influx of would-be tenants for more housing in the area.
“We have probably 20 to 30 people who look at the Cork Factory each week,” he said. “There’s a fair amount of out-of-town people being located here.”
By Jeremy Boren
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Pittsburgh could be deep into summer by the time an effort to save the Civic Arena is settled.
The Historic Review Commission is expected Jan. 5 to review a nomination to dub the 49-year-old, silver-domed arena a historic structure, a designation that would protect it from the wrecking ball.
The commission’s public hearing on the nomination is scheduled for Feb. 2, with a final vote set for March 2. All meetings are open to the public. The final decision by Pittsburgh City Council might not occur until late August depending on how the process plays out.
Penguins officials want the arena to be demolished to make way for a mix of retail, residential and office development on a 28-acre site.
The city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority, which owns the arena, approved the demolition in September.
The city Planning Commission approved demolition in a unanimous vote Nov. 22. Advocates attempting to save the arena immediately nominated it as a historic structure, which means it can’t be demolished during the review process.
“(Our) goal has always been to find a economically viable community-based reuse plan, not to delay demolition,” said Rob Pfaffmann, an architect who heads Reuse the Igloo, a grassroots group that helped draft the nomination.
In this case, the Planning and Historic Review commissions make only recommendations to City Council.
The commissions’ recommendations must be made within five months of nomination. Council must hold a public hearing and take a final vote within 120 days of receiving those nominations, according to city code.
If each group takes the maximum amount of time, council wouldn’t vote until August.
The SEA had planned to demolish the arena in April.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010By Norm Vargo
Lou Botti is realizing a childhood dream.
“I used to love it as a kid when my family went to shop in Irwin. I knew we would end up at Isaly’s for an ice cream,” recalled the North Huntingdon contractor.
“I would think to myself: Someday I’d like to own an Isaly’s.”
It’s not an iconic Isaly’s, Mr. Botti, 41, now owns. It’s the landmark Hamilton Building along Main Street, which many in town still call “Isaly’s.” For 43 years it housed the immensely popular dairy store, deli and bakery until it closed in 2004.
Earlier this month, Mr. Botti opened the Main Street Deli and Bakery in that space. The store offers cold deli sandwiches, pies, assorted pastries baked on the premises, milk, bread, buns, lunch meats, cheese and ice cream, the Hershey brand.
Mr. Botti plans to add a full kitchen later.
The interior was renovated to give the deli a retro look. A meat slicer left from the old Isaly’s sits on the back shelf.
The familiar white slate marquee sign with the black script lsaly’s logo remains.
“The sign is not intended to mislead people. I don’t own an Isaly’s, I don’t sell Isaly’s products,” Mr. Botti said. “It’s that the sign has a historical significance in Irwin’s downtown. The dairy store-deli was a destination for folks. Old-timers still call it “Isaly’s.”
“Lots of memories are in there, including mine,” Mr. Botti said.
“Customers keep bringing in mementos and souvenirs from the old Isaly’s. They want to share their treasures with me. It’s unbelievable,” he said.
A little history:
The late Art Lewis founded a dairy store in Irwin 65 years ago. The business outgrew its building.
When the Hamilton Building in the heart of downtown became available, he bought it.
About that time, Isaly’s began franchising. Mr. Lewis recognized the potential for a dairy store-deli in Irwin. He negotiated a franchise that would become so popular that he opened another Isaly’s in the Norwin Shopping Center in North Huntingdon.
Bakery goods were baked in the Irwin Isaly’s daily and delivered to the other store. Mr. Lewis retired in 1986 and sold that business to concentrate on the Irwin store.
Potential deals to purchase the three-story brick Isaly’s Building and the delicatessen, which was being operated by family members, fell through.
The structure deteriorated. Borough officials were considering condemnation.
“What council didn’t want to do was to tear down that landmark building and leave a vacant lot right in the middle of the downtown business district,” said Councilwoman Danyce Neal.
“We all were hoping somebody would buy it and restore,” Ms. Neal said.
Urged by Donn Henderson, the Irwin Main Street manager, Mr. Botti purchased the building in 2007.
He immediately corrected a multitude of building code violations to make the structure sound.
Then he renovated four apartments on the upper floors. All were rented before completion.
“I really was interested in those apartments,” said Mr. Botti, who estimated he “has put about $300,000” into the building.
“My initial plan was to find somebody to put in a deli,” he continued. “Three investors looked at it, but no deal materialized.
“I figured three years was long enough to wait. I decided to open one.”
Mr. Henderson said he hoped the deli would attract investors to invest in other businesses in the community.
For details, call 724-515-5525.
Thursday, November 04, 2010By Mark Belko, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Fans will have a chance to buy seats and other memorabilia from the Civic Arena over the next two months through on-line sales.
The city-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority approved an agreement this morning with the Penguins related to the sale of assets from the Igloo, which closed at the end of July.
Seats from the arena will go on sale to Penguin season ticket holders in the next few days, a sale that will run until Nov. 30. That will be followed by a sale to the general public on Dec. 1. A pair of seats will cost $495. Buyers can choose from red, blue, black and, of course, orange seats, but they will not be able to request individual seat numbers. About 5,000 seat pairs will be available for purchase.
The seat sale will be followed by an online auction Dec. 8 for other arena memorabilia, some of which will include Penguins logos or the signatures of players.
Bidding for the memorabilia will start about two weeks before Dec. 8. The highest bidder will be awarded the items. Those who have placed a bid will be notified if they have been outbid leading up to the closing Dec. 8.
“Although I don’t like this phrase, it’s very similar to eBay,” said Shawn Allen, chief operating officer for AssetNation, which is handling the sale.
The first online auction will be on Nov. 17 for arena furniture.
All of the seat transactions will take place on www.iglooseats.com
Bidding will be conducted at www.asset-auctions.com
Those who don’t have access to the Internet can call 1-800-303-6511 for a paper bid form.
The sale is expected to generate $1.6 million for the SEA and $800,000 for the Penguins, who will donate their share to their foundation.
The SEA’s share ultimately could be used to help pay for the demolition of the iconic 49-year-old domed building to make way for redevelopment.
Thursday, October 28, 2010By Norm Vargo
Will the Lamp shine again?
The once-popular movie theater in downtown Irwin closed in 2005. Its marquee still boldly predicts “the Lamp will shine again.”
But $500,000 is needed for that to happen.
Westmoreland Cultural Trust acquired ownership from Irwin-based KCS Real Estate Services in 2007. KCS purchased the property in early 2005.
The Trust spent more than $400,000 on renovations, but the project stalled nearly two years ago when that Greensburg-based nonprofit ran out of funds.
Renovations included a new roof, plumbing and electrical work, and a clean-up of the interior and marquee.
In 2008, S&T Bancorp donated $5,000 for a new heating, ventilating and air conditioning system.
The shuttered 75-year-old landmark, viewed as a key to the economic revival of Irwin’s business district, has become an eyesore along Main Street. The first phase of a state-funded $1.9 million Streetscape project should start in February.
Trust officials, however, estimate that $500,000 more is needed to complete renovations, according to Irwin council president Deborah Kelly. And she said the Trust does not have the money to resume the project.
Residents of the borough and surrounding areas may be asked to chip in as part of a public-private fundraising effort to complete renovations and reopen the Lamp as a cultural center/movie theater.
That option was discussed recently when concerned borough and Irwin Project officials met with state, county and Trust representatives to discuss the future of the theater-restoration project, Ms. Kelly disclosed.
“Timing is critical to the revitalization of downtown,” Ms. Kelly said. “I set up the meeting with the Trust to determine if we’re going anywhere with the Lamp Theatre. They say it is still over $500,000 away from completion of renovations.
“That said, we did some brainstorming to meet some of that funding issue. We’re going to form a committee to explore some fundraising options from the borough and from within the community.”
She added that the borough has asked the Trust to provide a business plan for the renovations, an operating plan once they are completed, and will look into grant funding.
“Once we have that information,” she said, “we can have a more informed discussion about any involvement in fund raising options.”
Earlier this year, the Trust was awarded a $15,000 grant sponsored by state Rep. James E. Casorio Jr., D-North Huntingdon, to develop plans to complete work on the marquee.
Meanwhile, council on Oct. 13 unanimously adopted a resolution that will designate Irwin Park, Pangolin Park and Bell Park as smoke-free. The ban will take effect in November.
By Brian C. Rittmeyer, VALLEY NEWS DISPATCH
Sunday, October 24, 2010
With its cracked walls, broken windows and dust-covered floors, any attempt to bring back a once-grand hotel on Leechburg’s Market Street would seem like an overwhelming task.
And then there are the ghosts.
It is a daunting task. The only way Linda Alworth can even approach it is one piece at a time.
“All this means nothing to me,” Alworth said recently as she looked around the dark area of the gutted building that will soon become a pub. “I can see it finished. I take one small area of it at a time.”
Alworth’s $2.2 million project to turn the 110-year-old building at 127 Market St. into the Lingrow Inn is moving into high gear. She expects a first-floor restaurant and bar to be open for business early next year.
During its life, the building has carried many names. In the 1920s, it was the National Hotel, and home to a pharmacy.
“We want to try to bring it back to the way it was, with a new fling,” Alworth said.
Borough council President Tony Defilippi’s grandfather, Joseph Defilippi, owned the hotel. He has a photograph of the hotel lobby with his grandfather, who died in 1925, behind the registration desk.
“It will be very nice to see the hotel being used again. I hope to see the entire building be renovated soon,” Defilippi said. “It adds a lot to the downtown area.”
David Farkas, director of the Main Street program for the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, called the project important not just for Leechburg, but for the entire region.
“When the project is complete, there will be an expanded dining offering in Leechburg (and) a place for people to stay who are visiting the area to take advantage of all the outdoor activities that are possible here in the Kiski Valley,” he said. “It will allow people who are visiting or here for special events or weddings to stay close by in Leechburg. We expect that to have an impact on the surrounding businesses in Leechburg and the whole area.”
In Defilippi’s old photo, a grand staircase leads up to the second floor. The hotel section of the building has been closed off for nearly 40 years, although the first floor has been home to various bars and restaurants in subsequent years. The roof had a bad leak, and there has been significant damage to the upper floors of the four-story building.
Closed off behind a wall and tiny doorway, the stairs are part of the charm Alworth plans to bring back.
“It will be grand. I can see the bride walking down the staircase,” Alworth said.
Hard work and tackling big projects come naturally to Alworth, a 56-year-old Gilpin resident who turned an 1850s barn in Gilpin into Lingrow Farm, one of the region’s top wedding venues. It was rated by local brides as a “best of weddings” pick for Southwestern Pennsylvania by the wedding magazine The Knot.
A granddaughter of immigrants from Poland and Germany, Alworth was one of five children who grew up on her family’s farm in Washington Township. Her father didn’t believe in sending girls to college.
“You have to believe in yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself, you’re never going to do anything,” she said. “How do you get things done? You do it. You don’t talk about it.”
Alworth started a landscaping business, Lingrow Landscaping, 17 years ago. She bought the farm at an auction six years ago and the event center is now in its fourth year of hosting weddings.
The inn will serve the farm with food and a place for guests to stay, once its 27 planned rooms are completed. But Alworth sees the building as serving the borough as well.
“I love this town. I love the people in the town. I believe in the businesses here. I believe they can do so much more,” she said. “I really want more business to come into Leechburg. This will be an anchor building.”
Alworth had a feasibility study done.
“We need places for people to stay and not just for the farm. We found out there is a real need,” she said. “We have the river. We have the kayaking now. We have great stores. We’ve been left in the dust long enough.”
Alworth paid $100,000 for the building in May 2009.
The economy has not been her friend. Getting the financing to do the work was not easy, and there were times Alworth thought it would never come and she’d be best to unload the building. But the financing finally came together.
Loans and her own money are paying for the work.
She didn’t get any government handouts. There are no grants out there for a for-profit business, unless she did a full and even more costly historical restoration. She will benefit from a program that phases in the property taxes on the value of the improvements to the building over 10 years.
Alworth’s landscaping employees are now gutting the building.
The guys talk of hearing people walking around upstairs. They’ve heard someone playing a piano that remains on the second floor. Sometimes the “ghost” is Alworth playing pranks, but other times…
They’ve removed the facade, exposing brick columns, and torn away plaster walls inside, exposing more warm brick.
They found an elegant arched doorway inside that had been covered up — and a significant crack near the front of the building. But Alworth says a structural engineer found the building to be in good condition, worthy of rehabilitation.
The restaurant and bar are coming first, to start a revenue stream. An architect is finishing plans, after which she’ll apply for building permits.
The bar, Olde Henry’s Pub, will be named for a brother, Henry Bazella, who lives in Georgia. Alworth says it will be like a New York bistro.
Most of the antiques of value in the building are long gone, but Alworth found a pile of solid old pub chairs – marked made in Poland – that she plans to have refurbished and use in the bar.
There’s an old cooler in the basement, where Alworth envisions a wine cellar.
The 90-seat restaurant will be named for her mother, Olive Bazella. The menu is a work in progress, but Alworth says the restaurant will serve healthy, good, affordable food.
“She was a wonderful cook, a wonderful mother,” Alworth said. “She’s probably looking down right now thinking, girl, you’re crazy.
“You have to be a little bit crazy,” she said.
Thursday, October 21, 2010By Karen Kane, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
As the community prepares to shine a headlight on the historic pairing of the jeep and Butler, efforts have been ongoing to promote the preservation of the site where the jeep was manufactured: the Bantam building off Hansen Avenue in Pullman Center Business Park.
Butler Downtown, an organization committed to the revitalization of the city, coordinated a community drive to raise $25,000 toward the preservation of the building. A representative of AK Steel, which owns the building, said the company was willing to listen to any proposals.
In September, Becky Smith, Main Street manager for Butler Downtown, entered the building in the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s “This Place Matters Community Challenge.” The prize was $25,000 for the site that had the most computer clicks in the challenge.
Of 119 community projects, Butler’s Bantam Building ranked 23rd with more than 600 votes.
“We’re not going to win the money, but this effort raised awareness of the historical significance of the building,” Ms. Smith said.
The winner was a theater project in Austin, Texas.
The building is not being used, and its structural integrity is in question — the roof has a hole in it. Ms. Smith said the prize money could have been used to further the cause for placement on the national historic register or turned over to AK Steel to help with building repair costs.
She said several entities — including Downtown Butler, the Butler County Tourism and Convention Bureau, the Butler County Historical Society and the city of Butler — support the effort to have the building preserved as an important historical place.
The building was constructed in 1899 and 1900 by the Davis Lead Co. After a couple of owners, it ended up in the hands of American Bantam Car Co. in 1929. It was the site of the jeep’s initial manufacture in 1940.
In May, The Young Preservationists Association of Pittsburgh named the Bantam building to its “Top 10 List of Best Preservation Opportunities in the Pittsburgh Area.” The list is designed to encourage investment in historic sites throughout southwestern Pennsylvania.
A spokesman for AK Steel said the practical concerns were standing in the way.
“We have a sense of history ourselves, and we understand the interest in the history of the building; but I don’t know if it’s realistic,” said Alan H. McCoy, vice president for government and public relations.
Mr. McCoy said the building, which hasn’t been used by the company since the 1970s, not only has deteriorated but it is also on a site that is still used by AK Steel.
“It’s not just a matter of transferring ownership of the building. How would they then access it? There are substantial hurdles,” he said.
Still, Mr. McCoy said the company remained open to discussion. “We haven’t said ‘no’ to the idea, and we haven’t said ‘yes’. We just have to see how things unfold.”