Unsung heroes of Downtown Pittsburgh

Jack Piatt, Jim Rohr and Art Ziegler are remaking the city they love

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The final steps in acquiring properties along Fifth Avenue from Warner Center to Wood Street have now been completed, assuring the renewal of Downtown Pittsburgh's central thoroughfare.

There are several unsung heroes in this effort. Let's start with the curious story of Jack Piatt.

About 15 years ago my wife and I joined seven other people in an effort to renew the business center of Slippery Rock. The streetscape architect with whom we worked asked if I knew real estate developer Jack Piatt of Millcraft Industries. I didn't, and he invited me to a meeting with Jack at Southpointe.

At one point, Jack turned to me and asked what I was doing. I explained I was heading a group called the Pittsburgh Task Force to refurbish Downtown Pittsburgh.

Jack, a distinguished, silver-haired gentleman with sparkling blue eyes, then asked, "What's for sale?"

I noted that the former Mellon bank building Lord & Taylor had vacated was gone, but that the Lazarus building was available.

"How much?" he asked.

I replied, "$8 million to $10 million."

He said, "I'll buy it."

I was shocked.

"Are you serious?"

"Absolutely. Put together the people for the sale."

The next Monday we met with the mayor's people, the Urban Redevelopment Authority, the Regional Industrial Development Corp. and the Strategic Investment Partnership, and the sale was under way.

Jack promptly planned to add 60 condos to the top floors of his new building, offices on the three central floors (for state employees) and restaurants at the street level (McCormick & Schmicks and Capital Grille).

After naming the building Piatt Place, he went on to buy and redevelop the five former G.C. Murphy buildings on Fifth Avenue, with apartments on the top floors, the YMCA in the middle and a Joseph Banks clothing store and a new restaurant, Valozzi's, on the first floor.

Next came the State Office Building at the Point, which Jack purchased and is remodeling for more than 200 apartments. He says they will offer "spectacular views."

Jack did not stop there. He has just introduced a plan for a new high-rise building adjacent to Market Square that will house corporate offices and a Hilton Garden Inn, plus 250 parking spaces.

We are blessed with others who believe in Pittsburgh's future.

When we were starting the Pittsburgh Task Force, I met with Jim Rohr, chairman and CEO of PNC Bank, in his office. At the end of the meeting, he called us over to the window and pointed to the deteriorated buildings on Fifth and Liberty avenues. He said, "We will rebuild that in the future."

True to his word, an elegant new tower now stands there, home to the Reed Smith law firm, The Fairmont Hotel, offices and 28 luxury condos.

Jim is a Pittsburgher who cares about his city and has built the sixth-largest bank in the United States, headquartered here.

Then there's Arthur Ziegler, CEO of the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation. He purchased two buildings with crumbling roofs on Graeme Street adjacent to Market Square. Art remade this aging pair of buildings into an exquisite historical structure with a remodeled facade, classy retail space on the street level and seven upscale apartments above.

Each of these gentlemen -- unsung heroes -- had a unique vision to make Pittsburgh a more attractive and inviting city. Combined, their work has given us a new Downtown renaissance, and there is more to come. Each has made a serious commitment to Pittsburgh, to its future, to its way of life.

Jack Piatt, the innovative entrepreneur, Jim Rohr, the superb executive, and Art Ziegler, the masterful re-creator of our historic legacy -- Pittsburgh thanks you for your vision and creativity.

Herb Burger , a retired marketing executive, was chairman of the Pittsburgh Task Force.


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