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Developer applauds O’Connor

By Ron DaParma
Friday, January 13, 2006

Local developer Ralph Falbo was pleased to learn Thursday that Mayor Bob O’Connor is willing to listen to multiple proposals for revitalizing the Fifth-Forbes corridor Downtown.

Falbo, who would like to put a residential/grocery/retail store project in the vacant G.C. Murphy building at the entry point to Market Square, is one of several local and national developers who say they’d be interested in taking a stab at projects in that key area of Downtown.

“I think it’s high time that this is opened up to a lot of different people,” said Falbo yesterday, the day after O’Connor disclosed his intentions during a meeting with Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reporters and editors.

O’Connor said he still is willing to consider a master development plan being prepared for a group of city-owned properties along Fifth Avenue by Madison Marquette, a major Washington, D.C. based developer.

But while Madison Marquette continues to prepare its plan, he will welcome proposals from other developers and then determine what’s the best deal for the city.

“We have spent a great deal of time putting together a proposal,” said Falbo, whose company is building 151 FirstSide, an 18-story, 82-unit upscale condominium project Downtown.

He hopes to meet with officials of O’Connor’s administration next month to discuss the new project, which he first introduced early last year.

The mayor would be well-served to listen to Falbo, and other developers with viable ideas for projects Downtown, said Aaron Stauber, managing director of Rugby Realty Co., of Tieterboro, N.J.

“You should look at what’s been happening in the Cultural District over the last several years, just by doing development piece by piece,” said Stauber, whose company has been involved in several of those projects.

Rugby, which owns more than 10 city properties, including the Gulf Tower, Manor and Frick buildings, also would be interested in projects along Fifth and Forbes avenues, Stauber said.

“We would be eager to have conversations with Mayor O’Connor and his team regarding this subject,” said R. Damian Soffer, owner and president of Soffer Organization.

Soffer, whose 34-acre SouthSide Works project has revitalized a former steel mill site on the South Side, said the success of the project demonstrates urban renewal can work.

O’Connor’s decision also was welcomed by Arthur P. Ziegler Jr., president of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation.

The preservationist organization, which developed the successful Station Square complex on the South Side, recently offered to assist the city in preserving and providing development expertise for three deteriorated but historically significant buildings on Market Street and Fifth.

“Various developers have called me and expressed great interest in reuse of historic buildings in the corridor,” said Ziegler, who did not identify the companies involved.

Ron DaParma can be reached at or 412-320-7907.

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