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URA marks milestone in facade program

Pittsburgh Post GazetteFriday, June 08, 2007
By Diana Nelson Jones,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority celebrated a milestone in commercial facade renovation yesterday on Broad Street in East Liberty, one of 32 neighborhoods that has benefited from the authority’s Streetface loan-to-grant program.

Ed Lesoon’s three-story yellow-brick building at 6022-24 is the 1,200th facade to have been spruced up with help from the URA, according to records that date to 1983. But his own investment in the neighborhood goes back to the 1970s and has figured in the millions.

Broad Street, between Highland and Sheridan avenues, is heavily traveled, with diagonal head-in parking on one side and a cropped curb on the other. Its facades are largely stale, but that is changing.

Yesterday, a day after Washington, D.C. developer Nigel Parkinson announced plans for a $40 million renovation and a construction complex involving half of that block, the URA saluted the investment Mr. Lesoon has made on much of the other half.

The property that drew about 50 people yesterday — including Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and state Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park — once was a furniture store. It was caving in and needed a new parapet wall when Mr. Lesoon bought it in 2000. Besides having sustained fire damage, the building was bricked up except for two little windows in front.

After a complete gutting, it is massive and airy. Each 5,000-square-foot floor has a large bank of windows and elevator access. The interior reconstruction created tie-ins to both upstairs floors of the building beside it, which fronts on Sheridan Avenue and houses a Family Dollar store.

Mr. Lesoon said he wants to rent the first floor of the old furniture store as restaurant or retail space and the upstairs as offices.

Working with architect Cherie Moshier, he and his crews have converted four of seven properties on the block.

They gutted the former Veterans of Foreign Wars club at 6020 Broad and added a partial second-floor overlook that suggests a bistro or club.

Next door is the former Walsh’s Lounge & Bar, which Mr. Lesoon bought last year.

“We removed 500 gallons of grease and dirt out of there,” he said yesterday, adding that he plans to remove the glass-block front and open up the facade.

All told, Mr. Lesoon has restored and renovated 20 of 23 buildings in East Liberty with $208,825 in Streetface grants, said URA spokesman Julie Deseyn.

The facade money, even when it’s a relatively small portion of some of his facade costs, “is such a good incentive that I have been doing this for 20 years,” Mr. Lesoon said. “But I get hooked on buildings. I think of them as my Eliza Doolittles.”

Building owners in qualifying commercial corridors can get 40 percent of the project cost, up to $30,000, said Anita Stec, business development specialist at the URA. The money starts as a loan, but for each of five years that the property is maintained as approved, the URA converts 20 percent of the loan to a grant, she said.

In 25 years, the URA’s $13 million investment in facades has leveraged an additional $50 million in investments by private interests, said Jerome Dettore, executive director of the URA.

Mr. Lesoon said he and his father were inspired by Ward Olander and his company, Real Estate Enterprises, which has been investing in East Liberty properties since 1970. Today, Mr. Lesoon and his son develop properties as the Wedgwood Group.

(Diana Nelson Jones can be reached at or 412-263-1626. )

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