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Firm unveils plans for $40 million E. Liberty restoration, development

Pittsburgh Post GazetteThursday, June 07, 2007
By Diana Nelson Jones,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A Washington, D.C., firm presented plans yesterday for The Montrose Exchange, a $40 million hotel, office and retail development in the heart of East Liberty, at a meeting with the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

Six buildings would be restored and one built on the site of nine existing buildings, said architect Andrew Moss. Montrose Exchange refers to the name of East Liberty’s former telephone exchange.

The Morgan Development Group began securing land four years ago. It has a franchise agreement with the Hotel Indigo, a member of the Intercontinental Group, for a 135-room boutique hotel. It would consist of four buildings in the block bounded by Highland Avenue and Broad, Kirkwood and Whitfield streets, said Nigel Parkinson, the firm’s principal.

The now-dilapidated six-story Kirkwood Hotel would be restored as the historic reference and the tallest building of the multistory hotel, said Mr. Moss. The hotel components would be connected and a new public plaza created in the block.

A large, modern office building beside the Kirkwood Hotel would be completely redesigned and reconfigured. Two buildings across Highland and one across Broad from the hotel would become two stories of retail and office space.

The plan includes restoration of the former American Legion building, the proposed location of a sister restaurant of Latin Concepts in Washington, D.C., said Mr. Parkinson.

He said Pittsburgh’s character and “great institutions” beckoned him to invest here.

“Last year, I was at a class reunion, and one of my professors was from Carnegie Mellon,” he said. “When I told him about my project, his wife’s eyebrows shot up and she said, ‘I’m from Shadyside!’ ”

Jerome Dettore, executive director of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, said the plan “is very, very solid, very impressive.”

“These guys have put their money where their mouth is. They have assembled the property, they have agreements in place and are ready to move,” he said.

From the URA, the developer is requesting gap-financing assistance, grants for facade restoration and help with public rights of way, infrastructure and parking areas.

“When there’s simply financing in the way, that’s the best role we can play,” said Mr. Dettore, whose staff often has to assemble sites for developers. “The chances of this [project] happening are extremely good.”

Mr. Moss said local businesses would have opportunities to locate in the retail spaces, which include seven in one building, three in another and an undetermined number in an additional 6,900 square feet.

Besides offices, a ballroom, meeting space or a nightclub are possibilities for a portion of the second floors, said Mr. Moss.

Part of the plan is to redesign an open space on Broad Street as a public green space “with a kiosk, a cafe with outdoor tables and an area for small events,” he said.

A Marriott Spring Hill Suites being planned two blocks up Highland made the agreement easier for the Hotel Indigo, said Mr. Moss. “They didn’t want to be the only one. There’s a lack of hotels” in the East End neighborhoods compared with demand, mainly because of nearby medical facilities.

Mr. Moss said the plan was to restore the hotel for certification by the U.S. Green Building Council.

(Diana Nelson Jones can be reached at or 412-263-1626. )

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