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Group to showcase 3 Downtown structures

Landmarks officials upbeat on restoring 5th-Forbes buildings

By Mark Belko,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Friday, August 11, 2006

The Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation views a $2 million-plus project to revitalize three old buildings in the heart of the Fifth and Forbes corridor Downtown as a symbol of a new attitude toward preservation.

Foundation officials hope to showcase the project, which involves reuse of three buildings at Fifth Avenue and Market Street, when preservationists nationwide gather in Pittsburgh this fall for the National Preservation Conference.

Landmarks President Arthur Ziegler said it wasn’t that long ago that preservationists were battling former Mayor Tom Murphy over his first plan to improve the Fifth and Forbes corridor, one that would have endangered a number of older buildings Downtown.

At one point, the National Trust for Historic Preservation designated the Downtown retail district as one of the most 11 endangered historic areas in America.

Mr. Ziegler said conditions have changed under Mayor Bob O’Connor, as evidenced by city Urban Redevelopment Authority board approval yesterday to sell the three Market and Fifth buildings to the foundation for $257,000.

“I think we have a national story to tell on cooperation, reuse … and I think we have just the right audience for it, because the last they heard was downbeat under Mayor Murphy. Now they’re going to hear upbeat with this new administration,” he said.

As part of yesterday’s action, the URA board approved the purchase of a deteriorating building at 439 Market from the city for $40,000 plus costs, and then turned around and sold that structure and two adjacent ones owned by the authority to a foundation subsidiary for $300,000.

The final sales price ended up at $257,000 as a result of a $43,000 credit given to the foundation because of the need for demolition work at 439 Market, a building in such disrepair that it is viewed by adjacent property owners as a safety hazard in danger of collapse.

The three buildings have an assessed value of $639,000, according to the Allegheny County real estate Web site.

Mr. Ziegler said Landmarks intends to preserve the facades of all three structures, including the old Regal Shoe Co. That building was designed by Alden & Harlow, a prominent city architectural firm in the early 20th century.

The foundation is looking to convert the first floor of the three combined buildings into retail space, with apartments likely on the upper floors. There also is a chance that the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership may use upper floor space for offices. In all, 12,000 square feet is involved.

Mr. Ziegler said Landmarks hopes to get started by Halloween, in time for the conference. It expects the renovation to take about a year.

“We’re very, very anxious to get started,” he said.

State Sen. Jim Ferlo, a URA board member, said he hopes the project can be a “rallying cry of sorts” to show that the O’Connor administration takes preservation seriously.

The rehabilitation will complement larger projects planned for the corridor. PNC Financial Services Group has begun demolition to make way for Three PNC Plaza, a 23-story office, hotel, and residential complex on Fifth Avenue.

Millcraft Industries is working on a residential and retail development that would involve reuse of the old G.C. Murphy building and nearly 20 other URA-owned properties in the corridor. Some would be demolished to make way for a residential complex.

(Mark Belko can be reached at or 412-263-1262. )
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This article appeared in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. © Pittsburgh Post Gazette

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