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Three Market Square buildings may get an upgrade

By Mark Belko,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership may team with the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation to redevelop three publicly owned buildings in Market Square.

Both groups see the plan as a way to not only save three vacant, deteriorating buildings but to pump life into the Fifth and Forbes retail corridor and Market Square itself.

Under a preliminary proposal, the foundation would serve as developer of the three buildings from 439 Market St. to the corner of Market and Fifth Avenue. The Downtown Partnership would serve as an anchor tenant, moving from its offices on Liberty Avenue.

One of the partnership’s goals over the next five years is to focus more attention on Market Square, where it now sponsors Thursdays with a Twist and a farmers market.

The square also is a primary spot for many of the partnership’s annual Light Up Night festivities.

“We think that conceptually it makes a lot of sense,” Downtown Partnership President Michael Edwards said.

“Certainly Market Square, from the public’s perspective, is sort of a harbinger of the condition of Downtown. We need to make sure it is managed well and working for the merchants.”

The potential venture with the History & Landmarks Foundation comes as the Downtown Partnership prepares for its annual meeting today, one of its most anticipated in recent years. Mayor Bob O’Connor will be speaking, and the focus is expected to be on the growing investment Downtown, from residential housing to PNC’s new office tower on Fifth Avenue.

The History & Landmarks Foundation originally approached former Mayor Tom Murphy last year with a proposal to take over the three buildings, one owned by the city and two by the city Urban Redevelopment Authority. It did so in part to save the facade of 439 Market, a city-owned building in such disrepair that adjacent property owners wanted it demolished.

Mr. Murphy wouldn’t sell the buildings to the foundation, but he did accept a loan from the group to make repairs to 439 Market.

Foundation President Arthur P. Ziegler Jr. recently talked to Mr. O’Connor about the plan to work with the Downtown Partnership on the three buildings.

Mr. O’Connor said he’s willing to consider the idea and perhaps sell or lease the properties to the foundation, depending on what’s best for the city.

“Bringing good tenants to Market Square, Fifth and Market certainly is a goal, and I think it shows the vitality and desirability of the Fifth-Forbes corridor,” he said.

Mr. Ziegler envisions retail on the ground level of the buildings with the Downtown Partnership and possibly other tenants on upper floors. Preservation Pittsburgh also has proposed a transit cafe in the old Regal Shoe Co. building at Fifth and Market.

The entire endeavor, Mr. Edwards added, is contingent on several issues, including cost and the ability of the partnership to negotiate a settlement of its current lease, which runs until 2009.

The proposed reuse of the three buildings is just one idea to revitalize Market Square, which Mr. O’Connor has described as having an “old, tired” look. The mayor would like to turn the square into a small park, replacing sidewalks and streets with grass.

That plan could involve the elimination of Forbes Avenue, McMasters Way and Graeme Street where they run through the square.

(Mark Belko can be reached at or 412-263-1262.)

This article appeared in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. © Pittsburgh Post Gazette

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