Thursday, August 9, 2012

City a partner in preservation - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


By Bob Bauder

Published: Thursday, August 9, 2012, 11:59 p.m.
Updated 9 minutes ago

The days of bulldozing the past for the sake of development are over in Pittsburgh, where officials say partnerships with preservationists will create a vibrant Downtown blending historic and modern buildings.

City leaders, the Urban Redevelopment Authority and the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation on Thursday kicked off a $4 million renovation project to restore and preserve the facades of seven buildings on Wood Street and Fifth Avenue dating from 1875 to 1930.

â€Å"Imagine if we would have torn all these buildings down,” Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said. â€Å"This area wouldn’t have the feel that it has today. We’ve shown in Pittsburgh that you can mix the old with the new.”

That’s a 180-degree turn from Pittsburgh’s philosophy of the late 1990s.

Then-Mayor Tom Murphy wanted to acquire 64 parcels in the Fifth and Forbes corridor containing 125 businesses, demolish the buildings and turn the property over to Chicago-based Urban Retail Properties to build a retail sector known as the MarketPlace at Fifth and Forbes.

Murphy did not return a phone call on Thursday.

Preservationists opposed the project, and it died in 2000 after Seattle-based Nordstrom backed out of opening a department store along Fifth Avenue on the site of the Warner Centre.

Today, city planners, the mayor’s office and the History and Landmarks Foundation are working with a $4 million state grant to restore significant buildings in the corridor while new ones go up around them.

â€Å"This is happening in other cities, but here we are all planning it together,” said Arthur Ziegler, president of the foundation. â€Å"I don’t know of any other city where the mayor’s office is working with preservation groups like that. There’s no opposition to the new buildings because they’re going in places where the preservationists say they should go. So you have everybody working harmoniously instead of argumentatively.”

PNC Corp. is building its $400 million world headquarters, known as the Tower at PNC Plaza, at Fifth and Wood Street, and Washington, Pa.-based Millcraft Industries is planning its $86 million Gardens at Market Square, which will bring a hotel and office complex to Forbes Avenue.

The construction is revitalizing a Downtown that lost a significant number of corporate headquarters following the collapse of the region’s industrial base in the 1970s and ’80s.

More than 20 restaurants have opened in the area, and people are moving to apartments and condominiums on restored upper floors of Downtown buildings.

The city preserved substantial portions of real estate, including landmark Market Square, a large part of which was slated for demolition under the Murphy plan.

â€Å"I think it’s a delicate balance,” said Yarone Zober, Ravenstahl’s chief of staff who chairs the Urban Redevelopment Authority. â€Å"We have a plan, but it’s about partnering with individual business and property owners, rather than buying everything and tearing down.”

For example, the city approached Kashi Jewelers at Fifth and Wood, across from the new PNC building, and offered to help secure funding for the building facade. David Kashi and his sons, Ron and Alan, operate the store and own two adjoining buildings that will be restored. Alan Kashi, 30, said his father always believed when he purchased three buildings at Fifth and Wood that Downtown had potential.

â€Å"When we first purchased the properties, this was a neglected area, and nobody wanted them,” Kashi said. â€Å"We wanted to restore the buildings, but we needed a little help. When this is finished, people are going to be proud to see Fifth and Wood.”

Oren Solomon, 45, owner of the building housing City News and Arcade at 418 Wood, said he’s looking forward to renovations to the iron facade. Solomon plans to use his own money to renovate the top three floors for apartments. â€Å"If they do the outside, we’ll do the inside, because I know it will bring the money,” he said.

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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