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Millcraft gets stab at city’s heart

By Jeremy Boren
Thursday, May 18, 2006

Pittsburgh Mayor Bob O’Connor has tapped a Washington County developer to spearhead a $121 million residential and retail revitalization in the heart of Downtown.
O’Connor said he would recommend that Millcraft Industries’ father-and-son team of Jack and Lucas Piatt have exclusive rights to develop 19 vacant and dilapidated properties owned by the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

“I believe Jack Piatt and his son, Lucas, have the same vision I do,” O’Connor said. “I believe what’s happening today will reaffirm that this is a city on the move.”

The project will include:

A $21 million rehabilitation of the G.C. Murphy Building, to include 50 apartments and condominiums, 25,000 square feet of retail space and 50 parking spots. The historic building at Fifth Avenue and Market Square would be called “Marketplace.”

A new $50 million Forbes Avenue building, to be called “Forbes Village,” with 150 residential units and 20,000 square feet of retail space.

A previously announced $52 million renovation of the former Lazarus-Macy’s building, which will house a specialty grocery store, other retailers, office space and upscale condominiums.
Squirrel Hill developer Ira Morgan, O’Connor’s former campaign treasurer and financial backer, and retail brokers CB Richard Ellis and Langholz Wilson Ellis, will work with the Piatts to attract retailers and plan construction, which could be finished within two years.
The URA is scheduled to vote on O’Connor’s recommendation June 8.

Authority officials will negotiate purchase prices for the properties.

“We see this as a great opportunity to get on the bandwagon of the positive momentum that’s here in Pittsburgh,” Lucas Piatt said. “We know that the mayor made the right decision.”

Millcraft’s plans are less grandiose than what the Piatts offered O’Connor during a meeting April 18, when Piatt detailed a renovation effort calling for the construction of 850 residential units and 250,000 square feet of retail space. That could still happen, Lucas Piatt said.

O’Connor said a key factor in his choice of Millcraft over competing developer Ralph Falbo was the Piatts’ financial wherewithal to work fast.

“I want to move quickly. I think it’s been sitting too long,” O’Connor said.

Falbo said he will continue to develop properties Downtown. He said the Piatts’ plan seems to emphasize housing – something he believes is critical to long-term economic success. “Unless you have people, the retail won’t last,” he said.

Falbo said he’s pulling for the Piatts.

“We don’t want to see anybody fail,” he said. “The most important thing is to come out of the chute with a success. A black eye for Downtown wouldn’t help anyone.”

Hugh “Herky” Pollock of CB Richard Ellis said the mayor’s endorsement strengthens Millcraft’s chances of attracting top retailers. The Piatts wanted O’Connor’s OK in time for this month’s International Shopping Center Convention in Las Vegas, where they plan to court retailers.

Pollock said it’s premature to guess what stores might come to Pittsburgh.

O’Connor said the URA will establish a series of development and construction deadlines that Millcraft must meet. O’Connor and other Downtown development officials plan to meet Friday and Saturday with Downtown-based Urban Design Associates to work on a master development plan.

Michael Edwards, CEO of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, applauded the Piatts’ plans and said the mayor and the partnership are committed to making the city’s Downtown the most robust in the nation.

“It’s a great day for Pittsburgh,” Edwards said.

Jeremy Boren can be reached at or (412) 765-2312.

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