X marks $1.1M spot for North Side theater, URA
A decade of legal battles over the Garden Theatre ended Thursday with a $1.1 million agreement between the owner of the North Side X-rated cinema and the Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority.
The settlement, announced at the URA’s monthly board meeting just an hour after it was signed, comes almost two months after the state Supreme Court ruled that the city of Pittsburgh could seize the theater by eminent domain.
The board unanimously approved the deal, and the city could be in possession of the theater along West North Avenue before the end of the month.
“This is a great day for the city of Pittsburgh,” said state Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park, a URA board member. “It certainly elevates the overall development potential of the area.”
The dispute began in the mid-1990s, when then-Mayor Tom Murphy initiated the seizure of 47 buildings along and near Federal Street west of Allegheny General Hospital as part of a redevelopment program called “Federal North.”
But theater owner George Androtsakis refused the URA’s $214,000 buyout offer, saying the city was trying to squelch his First Amendment right to show pornographic films.
“Mr. Androtsakis would have loved to have a theater showing other kinds of film, but he couldn’t attract an audience because of the demographics of that neighborhood,” said James Sargent, the attorney who argued on Androtsakis’ behalf before the court and negotiated yesterday’s deal.
“He loved the Garden Theatre because it was a remarkable edifice, a real testament to our evolution as a culture,” Sargent said. “But, in the final analysis, he agreed to this without bitterness. It’s a business decision.”
URA general counsel Don Kortlandt said he first reached out to Androtsakis soon after the Supreme Court’s ruling, but negotiations broke down in mid-January. Androtsakis reconsidered about a week later, and negotiations resumed in earnest 10 days ago, Kortlandt said.
While Androtsakis initially was asking for far more than double the price finally agreed upon, Kortlandt said, “We got to a number that we both could stand, high enough for them, low enough for us.”
Last month, the URA sent out requests for proposals for redevelopment of 10 parcels surrounding the theater, but URA officials said many expressed skepticism as long as the theater continued to show pornography. The requests now will be amended to include the 92-year-old movie house, which began showing adult films in 1972.
Bonnie Pfister can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7886.
This article appeared in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review.