Pittsburgh looks to join development boom in its own backyard

By Mark Belko / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Photo Haley Nelson/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The former tow pound will be among city properties in the Strip District, Downtown, Uptown and Hazelwood marketed for redevelopment in a bid to take advantage of the building boom sweeping across parts of Pittsburgh.

Mayor Bill Peduto plans to introduce legislation before City Council today to sell the 12 parcels — from the former pound to the long-vacant Hazelwood Library — to the Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority for $1 each.

The URA will then have the properties appraised and meet with the affected neighborhoods to discuss possible reuses before marketing them for redevelopment.

Kevin Acklin, chief of staff for Mr. Peduto and URA board chairman, said one goal is to return the properties to the tax rolls to generate income for the city. In addition, 80 percent of the proceeds from the sales will be placed in a facilities maintenance fund, which will be used to upgrade other city-owned real estate.

The decision to sell the properties is an outgrowth of an ongoing review of all city facilities, Mr. Acklin said. The ones selected were deemed by the administration as “best conveyed to the URA for private development.”

Mr. O’Connor said there has been some interest in the building, which is less than three blocks from the former LTV Coke Works site that is targeted for a major mixed-use redevelopment. Artists and event planners have looked at the old library, he said.

The city also is planning to sell three parcels on Fifth Avenue in Uptown that are part of the Department of Public Works Facilities Division and city motor pool parking lots at 661 First Ave. and 700 Second Ave., Downtown. The Uptown properties are across the street from the former Fifth Avenue High School, which has been converted into luxury apartments.

Robert Rubinstein, URA acting executive director, said the 12 properties likely will be marketed for redevelopment on a staggered basis rather than all at once.

The goal not only is to maximize the economic benefit, but to find development that fits in with the neighborhood, he said.

“We think there’s going to be pretty strong interest” in all of them, he said.

The URA board will vote Friday on whether to acquire the properties, pending council approval. It also will vote on a cooperation agreement that would return 80 percent of the sale proceeds to the city.

Also Thursday, the URA board will vote on whether to approve $700,000 in loans and the sale of 33 properties for $61,500 to Susquehanna Homes Housing LP for the construction of 36 scattered-site affordable rental units in Homewood.

In doing so, he noted, the administration hopes to capitalize on some of the market attraction that’s happened in the city.

The Strip, for instance, has been exploding with new office and residential development. Hazelwood and Uptown are showing signs of new life, and Downtown continues to attract mixed-use projects.


Perhaps the most prominent parcels the city intends to market include the former tow pound — familiar to anyone who has had to get there to retrieve a vehicle towed there for some infraction — and city garage and the environmental services facilities on Railroad Street between 29th and 31st streets.

The city has tried unsuccessfully in the past to sell the properties located on the Strip riverfront adjacent to 31st Street Studios. But with all the new development occurring, including a possible expansion by nearby Uber Technologies, Mr. Acklin believes the time is right to act.

He noted that five or six entities already have expressed interest in the real estate. The city intends to move swiftly to market the parcels, once those still working there are relocated.

“If you look at what’s happening along the Strip District, we think this will be a very lucrative development opportunity for the city,” Mr. Acklin said.

Three other Strip parcels also are on the list, including a Penn Avenue building that once housed the Office of Municipal Investigations and an adjacent parking lot. The other is an EMS training facility at 2200 Liberty Ave.

The city plans to move the EMS instruction to a 32,000-square-foot space at 900 N. Lincoln Ave. it is leasing from the Community College of Allegheny County for at least the next three years to train police recruits. Mr. Acklin said there is enough room for the EMS work as well.

Also on the list is the former Hazelwood Library at 4748 Monongahela St., which city Councilman Corey O’Connor has been seeking to redevelop. Mr. O’Connor said he supports the transfer of the property to the URA for a sale.

“This will speed it up and then we can have a community conversation about it, which is a good thing,” he said.


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