Category Archive: Downtown Development
Wednesday, September 15, 2010By Mark Belko, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The future of the Civic Arena, the iconic silver-domed structure that has graced Pittsburgh’s skyline for nearly half a century, could be decided Thursday.
City-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority members are scheduled to vote that day on whether to demolish the 49-year-old landmark to clear the way for an office, residential and commercial redevelopment proposed by the Penguins.
The decision to schedule the vote came after SEA consultants Oxford Development Co. and Chester Engineers concluded in a final report after an eight-month historic review process that demolishing the arena with its distinctive retractable dome was the “recommended” option for redevelopment.
Removing the building would create an “unencumbered development site” and allow for the restoration of the street grid that once connected the Hill District and Downtown, one destroyed when the arena was built, the report said. It also stated an unencumbered site “is more attractive to developers.”
The option favored by preservationists, keeping the structure in place, “presents a challenge to proposed site development, marketing and construction strategies,” the report stated. “Reuse considerations which keep the historic characteristic (the operational dome) require significant initial and ongoing public support and also fail to generate economic activity sufficient to justify forgoing redevelopment opportunities available [with demolition].”
The vote was scheduled the same day Reuse the Igloo, the group seeking to save the arena, came forward with its plan to transform the building into a venue for bowling, annual Christmas and Halloween-related events, bicycle polo, book festivals and weddings and other celebrations.
Todd Poole, president of Philadelphia-based 4ward Planning LLC, the Reuse the Igloo consultant, estimated the various events could generate as much as $2 million a year, enough to cover annual operating costs of $1.9 million.
Rob Pfaffmann, the Downtown architect who heads Reuse the Igloo, said that if SEA members vote to demolish the arena, his group would file for a court injunction to block it.
Mr. Pfaffmann said he is “extremely concerned” that tearing down the arena could amount to anticipatory demolition under the National Historic Preservation Act and jeopardize future federal funding related to the development.
“The battle is far from over from the point of view of Reuse the Igloo,” he said.
SEA board chairman Wayne Fontana wouldn’t say which way he planned to vote, and SEA executive director Mary Conturo refused to speculate about the outcome.
“All I can tell you is that it’s on the agenda,” she said.
The SEA has moved the start of its meeting up by one hour to 9:30 a.m. to allow for public comment in advance of the vote, Ms. Conturo said.
The Penguins, which want to redevelop the land with offices, housing and commercial uses, welcomed the vote.
“We think it’s clear that the best thing for the future of the city and the region is to tear down the old arena, clear the land for development and re-connect the Hill District to Downtown,” spokesman Tom McMillan said.
Board members will take up the matter even as Reuse the Igloo unveiled details of a reuse plan Tuesday that include the development of a 24-lane bowling alley in the bowels of the arena. It also called for conversion of some of the arena’s suites and luxury boxes into rental space for meetings and parties, weddings and other celebrations.
Reuse the Igloo is pushing its plan as an alternative to the Penguins’ proposal to demolish the arena and redevelop 28 acres of land.
Like the Penguins, the group also has plans for housing and office space on part of the site. But Mr. Poole said one of the advantages of the group’s plan is that it works even if no development takes place around the arena.
“Even if it didn’t happen for 10 years, you still have civic space that can be programmed and stand on its own,” he said.
Reuse the Igloo estimates conversion costs at $14 million. It believes the transformation to civic space would take three years.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010By Mark Belko, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
May the best burrito win.
Chipotle Mexican Grill is the latest restaurant headed for Market Square, claiming about 2,300 square feet of space on the first floor of the former G.C. Murphy store.
It will compete against another Market Square Mexican-style restaurant, Moe’s Southwest Grill.
Chipotle is the first known tenant to sign on to lease part of the 27,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space available in Market Square Place, the conversion of the Murphy store and other structures. The project also is home to the Downtown YMCA and apartments.
Lucas Piatt, chief operating officer for Millcraft Industries, the Market Square Place developer, said he expected Chipotle to be open by the end of the year. “We’re very excited, and we think they’ll be a nice fit for Market Square,” he said.
Herky Pollock, a CB Richard Ellis/Pittsburgh executive vice president and broker for the retail space, said luring Chipotle “further validates the strength of the redevelopment of the Fifth and Forbes corridor.”
“To have one of the pre-eminent fast casual concepts opening its only Downtown location in the Fifth and Forbes corridor is a tribute to years of hard work by many public and private participants,” he said.
Mr. Piatt said he expected to announce additional retail or restaurant tenants in the near future but wouldn’t identify them. Mr. Pollock called one upscale. “The to-be-named tenants will raise many eyebrows, given their quality,” he said.
Chipotle isn’t the only new restaurant announced recently for the remodeled square.
Last week, Yves Carreau, owner of Sonoma and Seviche restaurants in the cultural district, detailed plans to open NOLA, a New Orleans style bistro, in the former 1902 Landmark Tavern.
One of the best features of Pittsburgh’s compact Downtown is its open spaces, plazas and walkways where pedestrians can take a short breather from daily routines without even breaking their stride.
There is something relaxing about strolling past the plants, trees, benches and fountains, and even brief visits to these oases can put a smile on a preoccupied face or help clear a cluttered mind. During the summer’s heat wave, the ponds and water sprays provided relief from the intensity and acted as magnets on office workers out at lunchtime.
That’s why the increasing number of signs, fences and barricades encroaching on these places are a blemish on the countenance of the city. They transform a friendly face that says “Welcome” into that of a grumpy neighbor yelling, “Hey, you kids, get offa my lawn.”
As Post-Gazette architecture critic Patricia Lowry noted in a commentary Wednesday, these urban spaces didn’t happen by accident. The city’s zoning code contains requirements for green space, including guidelines for landscaping, seating, trees and even trash receptacles, and they clearly state that pedestrian access should not be blocked.
It’s true that the walkways through Gateway Center, the EQT Plaza on Liberty Avenue, the Katz Plaza on Penn Avenue and other venues throughout the city are private property, maintained by their owners who are responsible for keeping them in good repair. And the owners certainly are within their rights to deal with miscreants who might damage the shrubs or vandalize the fixtures.
But they don’t have to be exclusionary about it. PPG Plaza, whose fountain in summer and ice rink in winter were a gift from philanthropist Henry Hillman, is completely open and welcoming. Now that’s the face of Pittsburgh.
Auto body shop owner will train budding mechanics in 14,500-square-foot facilityFriday, October 01, 2010By Diana Nelson Jones, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Mike Fiore stood behind a podium Thursday morning, with Mayor Luke Ravenstahl to his left, and said, “We finally got here.”
Mike’s Auto Body and Vocational Center — a dream that Mr. Fiore began chatting about with his son Michael four years ago — officially opened with a ceremony on the Meadow Street site in Larimer on Thursday. It will be fully operational by early next year, when Mr. Fiore expects to enroll his first class of mechanics for certification training, he said.
Mr. Ravenstahl called the training center the first substantial private investment in the neighborhood in 40 years. Mr. Fiore’s shop specializes in collision repairs and custom body work. He has run his business in Larimer for 40 years and trained young mechanics, but he had to take them off-site for some instruction. The new 14,500-square-foot vocational center will keep them on-site for hands-on and classroom work.
Mr. Fiore said he hopes 36 will graduate each year, certified in welding, spraying paint, diagnostics and other skills.
The $1.8 million project, with investment from the Urban Redevelopment Authority, the Small Business Administration and Fidelity Bank, will employ 10 people full time and has the potential to join other businesses in retrofitting gas-burning cars into electric cars.
Mr. Ferlo said that while multi-million dollar projects get most of the attention, “we never lose sight of the importance of small businesses and the cumulative total of their benefits.”
Tom Link, manager of the URA’s business development center, said small business is responsible for 70 percent of new job creation.
Mr. Ravenstahl said the training center “is a seed for future growth,” and that, with the new Target store being constructed nearby in East Liberty, “shame on us if we can’t figure out how to spread investment throughout the Larimer community.”
Meadow Street is a strategic corridor because it runs through Larimer and into Highland Park and East Liberty.
Mr. Ferlo, a URA board member, said the URA would like to buy several properties directly across the street from the vocational center in order to develop a retail and housing link.
Already, the vocational center has been used as meeting space for Highland Park neighborhood advocates, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Larimer Green Team and ward leaders.
Mr. Fiore said he advanced his idea to a lot of people and that many weren’t encouraging.
“A lot of folks said, ‘wonderful idea,’ and walked away,” he said. “But my son and his wife [Michael and Chrissy Fiore] were nonstop support. And Jim Ferlo. He kept after me through all the paperwork, ‘C’mon, we’re going to get this done.’ We’ll get through all the hassles.’
Total transformation of Allegheny Public Square moves forward with completion of final design phase
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
The City of Pittsburgh, in partnership with The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, community members, and Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture, have completed the second major phase of design for the revitalization of the Northside’s Allegheny Public Square Park.
Since San Francisco based Cochran won the competition in 2007 to produce the final design for the park, a large amount of redesign has been done to the original plans, based on the concerns and wishes of the community and various stakeholders.
“To her credit, after three or four community meetings, Andrea went back to the drawing board and came back with a refined design that has been lauded, and I think reflects the community input extensively,” says Chris Seifert, deputy director of The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.
With the final designs completed, the project will go to bid for construction next March, with an estimated construction budget of $3 million. Over $4 million of the estimated $6 million overall budget has been raised. Due to the economy, the capital campaign was delayed for a brief time, but was able to get back on course last Spring.
By 2012, what is now merely a sunken concrete area in very poor condition will be transformed into huge public green space with sophisticated sustainable systems in place. In addition to a large meadow area, six dozen trees will be introduced to the park, along with a variety of low-maintenance native species. A large piece of public art will be installed in the center of the park, which will feature fog spraying devices to reflect light and allow visitors to cool off in the hot summer months.
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Source: Chris Seifert, The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh
Writer: John Farley
Image courtesy of The Children’s Museum
Paramount building was empty for yearsThursday, September 23, 2010By Diana Nelson Jones, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Paramount Pictures Film Exchange, described by a nearby businessman last year as “a disaster,” now has a new roof, flushing toilets and a clutch of stockholders.
At an open house Wednesday, exclamations from old films burst from the screening room, the public took tours and live bands played at night in a celebration of the building’s new life.
“After all these months of labor, to see it lit up …” said Rick Schweikert, letting a smile finish the sentence. He is the primary owner, having given UPMC $50,000 for it last winter, just ahead of what many believed was a pending demolition.
“It was empty for 20 years, and water poured through a hole in the roof,” he said, stroking the tile in a bathroom illuminated by a skylight. “But it’s in great shape. People knew what they were doing when they built this thing.”
It was built in 1926 at what is now 1727 Boulevard of the Allies, Uptown. It was one of six or seven along that stretch that accommodated the film industry, local theater owners and the local and national press who interviewed stars when they traveled to publicize their films.
Each studio stored movies at their exchanges, which were built like fortresses because film was so flammable.
The local exchanges included those of Warner Brothers — now home of the Duquesne University Tamburitzans — MGM, RKO and 20th Century Fox. The Paramount is brick and framed in terra cotta, with decorative scrollwork and egg-and-dart molding. The studio’s logo is still in place over the main door, which is now closed off; a door opening onto Miltenberger Street welcomed yesterday’s curious, among them a few film buffs.
Greg Pierce, assistant curator of film and video at the Warhol Museum, stopped by to see if his giant personal collection of industrial and locally made films might find a home at the exchange.
It was a film buff who brought the building into the public eye last summer.
Drew Levinson had entered a video contest sponsored by the Young Preservationists Association of Pittsburgh for students 25 and younger. His video about the Paramount exchange won the contest. He and the YPA nominated the building for historic status.
Mr. Schweikert said he will rent studios to artists, install a cafe in the film vault room, screen films and hold entertainment events. The upstairs will likely attract a firm taking advantage of tax credits, since the building is in a Keystone Innovation Zone — an area targeted for investment.
In the screening room Wednesday, a run of black-and-white shorts were projected inside the original ornate frame on the wall, the first movies to show in that room since the early 1970s.
The building is 8,500 square feet of mostly open space surrounded with windows. In its previous incarnation, clients entered a wainscotted vestibule through the main entrance and rented movies, returned movies and paid bills at a service window.
At full capacity, the exchange hired 50 people, including managers, secretaries, projectionists and people who repaired and cleaned film, said Mr. Schweikert.
City council approved historic status in January, when Mr. Schweikert closed on the property. He contracted with roofers and he and his Uptown neighbor, Bob Marion, began cleaning out debris, removing old pipes “and an HVAC unit the size of a minivan,” said Mr. Marion.
Mr. Schweikert, who owns other buildings Uptown, said his budget of $300,000 “is all we need.” His investment group, PFEX Inc., issued 100 shares of common stock and has sold 54 so far at $3,000 each.
Jason Roth, the building’s architect, said he was “ecstatic when I got a call from Rick last winter saying he was going to try to save it. He got to it just in time.
“There’s a lot of energy in Uptown now. I certainly hope this will feed off of, and feed into, that energy.”
By Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
City Council President Darlene Harris unveiled two display cases Tuesday morning outside council chambers in City Hall featuring historical documents and memorabilia.
Included are the official charters of the City of Pittsburgh and what was then the Borough of Pittsburgh; flags of Pittsburgh’s 16 sister cities; and gifts presented to the city from visiting dignitaries.
The cabinets were paid for with money allocated for the Sister City program. Pittsburgh’s sister cities include Sheffield, England; DaNang, Vietnam; and Karmiel and Misgav, Israel.
The Sister City program began in 1956 to further exchanges between the United States and other countries.
October 1, 2010
Conceived by philanthropist Edgar J. Kaufmann, Sr. and funded as an innovative public-private partnership, the project was intended to be a grand contribution to the region––a “civic” auditorium and convention center. Mitchell & Ritchey, the premier Pittsburgh architectural firm during the city’s Renaissance, designed the Arena in 1954; it was completed in altered form in 1961. It was a daring, contemporary design and an extraordinary feat of engineering with the world’s largest retractable roof.
However, we also understand the practical difficulty of saving and finding a feasible use for it that will generate sufficient revenue to adapt and to maintain it. We also recognize that the local constituency in the Hill District and others who in the 1960s opposed the demolition of the Lower Hill for the development of the then-styled “Arts Acropolis” have negative feelings about the existence of the Arena, which caused the taking and demolition of many houses and businesses.
Early in the study period, we looked at the possibility of saving the steel structure that holds the leaves in place, together with retaining several of the leaves underneath, so as to project what the Arena originally was and to serve as a sculpture in the landscape. Unfortunately, because of the amount of land area that would be taken permanently for such a monument, the streets running from the Hill District to the City could not be reestablished with concomitant development. Considerable future maintenance costs would also be entailed.
We also recognize the financial problems of the City and the fact that it lacks revenue to sustain the infrastructure, buildings and green spaces that it already has, and that it cannot become the fiscal custodian of another major public place.
If time can be given to further study alternative uses for the Arena, as Senator James Ferlo has suggested, we would support that. However, there need to be feasible proposals that appear to warrant serious study.
From the outset of the discussions, we have advocated that Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, and not just the State History Code, be followed by the Sports & Exhibition Authority (SEA). The Section 106 review process requires that alternatives be evaluated “that could avoid, minimize or mitigate adverse effects on historic properties,” and we understand that the SEA feels that the report by Michael Baker does that. The report, however, fulfills only part of the requirements and processes that are clearly defined in the Section 106 regulations.
We believe there is the possibility of jeopardizing the future use of federal funds for the redevelopment of the entire 28-acre Lower Hill site if Section 106 is not complied with prior to the demolition of the Arena. Section 110(K) of the National Historic Preservation Act prohibits “anticipatory demolitions” by placing a penalty on applicants of federal funds, including local governments, that intentionally destroy or harm historic properties prior to the completion of the Section 106 review process. The National Trust for Historic Preservation, our organization, and others have informed the SEA that proceeding with the demolition of the Arena may jeopardize the future use of federal funds at the site and make the federal funds vulnerable to legal challenge.
The Hill District is now engaged in a master planning process. The Penguins have provided a plan to establish a street grid reuniting the Lower Hill with downtown, including a connection over the Crosstown Expressway, and to create opportunities for major development. The land will be returned to the tax roles and enormous development opportunities, particularly for housing, will present themselves.
The Arena issue is a difficult one for all of us in the preservation community. Those who opposed the original urban renewal plan to demolish the Lower Hill and erect the Arena find themselves with the choice of trying to save the Arena or endorsing a plan that calls for the establishment of an urban street grid along with new development that supports the Hill District community’s desire to develop a plan that reunites the Hill District with the City.
This is not the first time that our community has had to deal with such an issue, nor will it be the last. Urban renewal of the 1960s deprived us of significant buildings, familiar street grids, and landscapes to be replaced by structures that at the time were generally not felt by preservationists to be equal in design quality to what was being lost. We hope that further discussion regarding the Arena and each related project will be conducted with objectivity and civility.
In the case of the Arena, we would favor its preservation if a practical plan were to be put forth that did not add to the financial burden of the City, that generated tax revenues from the land in the Lower Hill and development opportunities as well, and was supported by the Hill District residents.
If the Arena is to be removed, we then support the plan to establish an urban street grid, opening the land to provide development opportunities to a variety of developers, and we will suggest that a high standard of contemporary design be required.