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City may demolish part of building in Market Square

By Mark Belko,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The city is proposing to partially demolish a crumbling four-story building it owns at 439 Market St. in Market Square that is viewed as a safety hazard by adjacent property owners but a candidate for restoration by preservationists.

City officials will seek permission from the Historic Review Commission next week to demolish the building’s rear facade on Graeme Street, to gut the interior, and to strip away what is left of the roof.

As part of the proposal, the city would keep the more historically significant Market Street facade intact and consider a temporary enclosure to protect the interior while more permanent improvements are determined, according to an application with the HRC.

Officials must seek HRC approval for the demolition because the building is part of the Market Square Historic District.

The structure has been a constant source of concern to adjacent property owners in Market Square, who have complained about the collapsed roof, a rat infestation, and bowed exterior walls that are in danger of falling.

Last summer, the attorney for the property owner next door at 435 Market, which houses the Ciao Baby restaurant, threatened to seek a court order to force repairs or the demolition of the building, declaring that a “public emergency” existed.

Court action was forestalled when the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation offered to lend the city up to $33,000 to repair the roof and clean up the inside of the building.

The loan amount later was increased to a maximum of $75,000 in legislation submitted to City Council. But no final determination has been made pending a more exact estimate on the cost of repairs.

At this point, the city doesn’t have the money to do the demolition or to repair the building, Public Works Director Guy Costa said.

He estimated the cost of tearing down the Graeme Street facade, gutting the interior and ripping away what is left of the roof at $29,000 to $42,000. But he said the cost could escalate to $75,000 if a temporary roof is added and the building is enclosed.

Mr. Costa said one option under consideration would be for the city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority to buy the building and fund the demolition and repairs. The URA owns two adjacent buildings at 441 Market and the old Regal Shoe Co. store at Market and Fifth Avenue. He said he plans to meet with the mayor’s office and the URA to discuss that possibility.

Rob Pfaffman, president of the Preservation Pittsburgh board of directors, said the rear facade is bowing “quite substantially” and is in danger of collapsing. He said removing it would allow the city to gut the interior and take out what is left of the roof.

Preservation Pittsburgh has plans to turn the Regal Shoe building at Market and Fifth into a “transit cafe.” It also is interested in the structures at 439 and 441 Market as part of the project. It has said that both have good Market Street facades that ought to be preserved.

The URA has been holding the Regal Shoe building and the one at 441 Market for a developer as part of a proposed Fifth and Forbes make-over.

(Mark Belko can be reached at or 412-263-1262.)
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