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From Bad Movies to Good Food

Thursday, October 21, 2010
By Mark Belko, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A former porn theater would become a food market and apartments would anchor the upper floors of buildings under a plan to redevelop a rundown block of North Avenue on the North Side.

The team of Zukin Development Corp. and Collaborative Ventures is proposing to convert the former Garden Theater into an independent or co-op food market or perhaps a restaurant-small market combination.

Kirk Burkley, president of the Northside Tomorrow board, said Wednesday that the market might be similar to the East End Food Co-op, an IGA or Trader Joe’s. It would be focused on providing healthy, locally grown food for the area, he said.

Conversion of the former porn palace is just one element of a plan developed by Zukin and Collaborative Ventures to redevelop the long-neglected block.

The team also is proposing to add about 38 apartment units in the block, mainly utilizing the upper floors of existing buildings. The Bradberry building would become all residential, with 16 apartment units, Mr. Burkley said.

Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority board members are expected to vote today on whether to enter into exclusive negotiations with Zukin and Collaborative Ventures for the next 90 days. Zukin is based in Philadelphia and Collaborative Ventures is owned by two South Hills men.

The time would allow the team to refine its proposal, develop a site plan, and line up and secure the financing for the undertaking, which is expected to cost $12 million to $13 million.

Zukin and Collaborative Ventures are being recommended to the URA by Northside Tomorrow LLC, a collaboration between the Northside Leadership Conference and the Central Northside Neighborhood Council.

The Zukin team was selected over four other developers that responded to a request for proposals issued in May for redevelopment of the theater and other properties. Only two of those proposals offered to redo the entire block.

Mr. Burkley said the Zukin/Collaborative Ventures proposal was selected because it seemed to best correspond with the wishes of the North Side community.

“They’re the best horse for the course,” he said. “They have what we believe to be the most realistic proposal that also meets the desire and goals for the community and in accordance with priorities set forth in our community plan.”

A big component of that plan relates to community gardens, community agriculture and healthy foods, he said. There also is a desire to increase the number of residential units in the block, to preserve facades and to create jobs.

“We see this proposal as being best able to meet those needs in the near future,” Mr. Burkley said.

While the Zukin team plans some alterations to the backs of buildings to create more parking, it intends to keep the facades intact, he said.

Apartments in the Bradberry Building are expected to rent for about $750 a month. Others will range from roughly $1,000 to $1,200 a month.

The developers are also planning first-floor retail in most of the buildings to supplement the apartments and the food market. Potential retail uses include bakeries, takeout restaurants and coffee shops.

Financing is expected to include about $3.5 million in public funds and $4 million from a North Side community loan fund. The development team also expects to put in about $1 million in equity. The remainder would be financed privately.

Mr. Burkley said the goal was to start construction next year. But he added it might be more realistic to start facade and stabilization work next year, with full construction in 2012.

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