PHLF Begins Work on Three Downtown Properties
After eight years of controversy and misguided policies, redevelopment of the Fifth/Forbes corridor downtown is moving ahead, and several key projects are incorporating preservation and “green”-building principles.
“Green” buildings are purposely designed to preserve the natural environment as much as possible and to provide healthy, productive places for people. Because of the quality building materials used in historic structures and large windows and well-proportioned spaces, the “greenest” developments are often those that reuse historic structures.
After co-sponsoring the “Greening of Historic Properties National Summit” on October 30, 2006, the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation is putting many of the recommendations discussed that day into practice as it transforms three endangered historic buildings at Market Street and Fifth Avenue, downtown, into residential and commercial space.
“This is a major restoration project that Landmarks is undertaking to help spark the revitalization of architecturally significant historic buildings in the Fifth/Forbes corridor,” said Landmarks president Arthur Ziegler. “We are raising money to help fund the ‘green’ aspects of the restoration and to subsidize the apartments so they can be more affordable.”
On January 9, Landmarks purchased 439 and 441 Market Street and 130 Fifth Avenue from the Urban Redevelopment Authority for $257,000. “Unfortunately, these buildings were permitted to deteriorate severely under the former Mayor Tom Murphy’s administration,” said Arthur. One, the former home of Alexander Graham Bell Café, suffered a fire; then the administration did not repair the roof and it eventually fell into the basement, taking three floors with it.
Market at Fifth is seeking a “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” (LEED) rating based on more than 26 green features. Sterling Contracting LLC is serving as general contractor; Landmarks Design Associates is project architect; and evolve is the green-building consultant. The space within the three historic buildings is being reconfigured to function together and will contain seven upper-floor apartments and a commercial first-floor tenant, most likely a restaurant. The residential units have spacious layouts and exceptional designs. “Our two top units will feature a dual-floor layout with private decks overlooking a ‘green’ rooftop garden,” said Michael Sriprasert, Landmarks’ assistant for real estate programs.
The purpose of the green roof is to absorb moisture and reduce water run-off. Rents will range from about $1,100 for a one-bedroom/one-bath unit to about $1,900 for a two-bedroom/two-bath unit. “Having a development project in the center of an emerging housing market is very exciting,” said Michael, “and it’s our goal to have these units leased soon after they’re completed this fall, if not before.”
Plans are still in the works for the commercial space, but the concept is for a restaurant that will provide a comfortable space for both the business executive and the casual diner. Market at Fifth is located within the Market Square Historic District and will face a new park being developed by PNC across the street on Fifth Avenue.
The Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh was instrumental in facilitating Landmarks’ acquisition of these buildings. According to Eugene Matta, director of real estate and special development programs at Landmarks, “The URA was exceptional in working with us to acquire these buildings, and their hard work has helped us get the project moving quickly.”
In contrast to the Murphy administration’s approach of trying to attract one master developer from out-of-town to revitalize the Fifth/Forbes corridor, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is following the approach set by the late Mayor Bob O’Connor in allowing local private developers to tackle the redevelopment of many City-owned buildings. According to Michael, who led a team of Heinz School students to study the housing market in downtown Pittsburgh in 2005, “This approach leads to more creative and sustainable solutions because those developers who are locally based have a better grasp of the local market, are used to dealing with the intricacies of the local political system, and are invested in the Pittsburgh region.” Millcraft Industries, Inc. of Washington County and PNC Financial Services Group––both headquartered in the Pittsburgh region––are making significant investments in the Fifth/Forbes corridor, thus proving the logic of a local development strategy.
Market at Fifth, LP, is a downtown revitalization project of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation using “green”-building principles. Seven rental apartments and one commercial unit in three historic buildings at Market Street and Fifth Avenue are expected to be ready for occupancy this fall.
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