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Millcraft gives update on its projects for revitalizing downtown Pittsburgh, Washington

By Michael Bradwell
Business Editor
Washington Observer-Reporter
May 21, 2007

PITTSBURGH – When Millcraft Industries made a deal in late 2005 with the Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority to build an upscale condominium, retail and office development on the site of the former Lazarus-Macy’s store at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Wood Street, Lucas Piatt said the company felt like it was a pioneer.

A year later, Piatt, who is vice president of real estate for Millcraft, is seeing a lot of company as the downtown area surges with projects both big and small.

“It’s good to know we’re not the only pioneers here,” Piatt said last week as he addressed about 150 engineers and contractors at the Pittsburgh Westin Convention Center. “When we started on the Piatt Place project we didn’t know about PNC’s plans,” he said referring to the bank’s plans to build PNC Plaza just across the street from Millcraft’s project, with plans to include a Fairmont luxury hotel on the top floors of the building.

“It’s going to be great having the Fairmont as a neighbor,” he said.

His remarks were made during a panel discussion entitled, “The Road to 2010: Construction in the Tri-State Area,” sponsored by Navigant Consulting and the Engineers’ Society of Western Pennsylvania. Navigant, which provides a number of risk management and claims processing services to contractors, project owners and public agencies around the world, held the symposium to raise awareness of upcoming construction projects in Western Pennsylvania.

Piatt and his father, Jack Piatt Sr., chairman of Millcraft Industries, are at the forefront of Pittsburgh’s biggest effort to remake itself. On Tuesday, Lucas Piatt briefly described several projects totaling about $350 million that will help to drive residential and retail development in the city for years to come.

Earlier during the symposium, Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato told the group that in terms of construction activity, the next decade promises to be one of the busiest throughout the region.

“The next decade might be one of the best decades we’ll have in the amount of construction we’re going to have in Pittsburgh and Southwestern Pennsylvania,” Onorato said.

According to Piatt, the $65 million Piatt Place project has already sold 30 percent of the condominiums. It has also signed a Capital Grille steak house and a McCormick & Schmick’s seafood restaurant for the street-level retail. TD Ameritrade has also signed a lease to take a portion of the 180,000 square feet of office space available in the development.

In the Market Square area of downtown, Piatt said Millcraft is getting ready to embark on “Market Square Place,” which will include about 50 rental apartments priced at $1.25 per square foot per month to attract lower-income workers.

“It’s going to get working-class people living and working in the city,” Piatt said. He said Millcraft will visit the annual International Council of Shopping Centers convention in Las Vegas next week and expects to receive commitments from retailers for the Market Square development.

Moving uptown, on Forbes Avenue, Millcraft plans to develop “The Gardens,” which will include 200 apartments and condominiums. He said the $200 million project will be put out for bids in about six months.

A future project for Millcraft will include the “Wood Street Lofts,” across from Piatt Place, a $40 million project that will include 104 units at market rates and 30,000-square-feet of retail space. Piatt said Millcraft is still acquiring property for the project.

One of the biggest challenges to developing the downtown, Piatt said, “is that you have to have critical mass,” getting enough people to move downtown to create more demand for downtown living.

He said earlier attempts to revitalize the city, which focused on retail, failed because they didn’t take into account that the city needed residents and that it relied on outside developers who weren’t familiar with Pittsburgh’s challenges.

“We’re here to stay, we’re local and when things get tough, we’re not going to leave,” he said.

In addition to the multiple Pittsburgh projects, Millcraft also is forging ahead with its $100 million “Crossroads” project for redeveloping downtown Washington.

Piatt said the LandAmerica Building at Franklin and Beau streets, originally named Nationwide Centre, opened this spring, and is about 80 percent leased. The primary tenant is Nationwide Appraisal Service Co. with other companies coming that include First Federal Savings Bank, Crazy Mocha Coffee and the Social Security Administration. An outdoor park and amphitheater which can accommodate up to 500 people is under construction behind the building.

Piatt, who said the company has spent more than $35 million so far, said the next step will be a refacing of Millcraft Center, a $500,000 project to upgrade the exterior of the structure, which was built in the 1970s.

A second phase of the Crossroads project will involve adding street-level retail with condos and apartments on upper stories to the downtown area and the construction of a boutique-style, 84-room hotel, which Piatt said probably will have a Hilton badge.

In Phase III, Millcraft plans to add additional housing, he said, adding that the entire project will take about 10 years to complete

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