Developer expects state to offer help with Fifth-Forbes

The View from Vegas

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LAS VEGAS -- The Millcraft Industries team plans to meet with Gov. Ed Rendell in a few weeks to seek state aid to help in the redevelopment of Downtown's Fifth and Forbes avenues area. And they are expecting a warm welcome.

"[Mr. Rendell] knows this is a great project for Pittsburgh," said Lucas Piatt, vice president of real estate for the Canonsburg developer that last week won Mayor Bob O'Connor's blessing to try to turn about 20 Downtown properties into two mixed-used developments combining retail and residential spaces.

Meanwhile, Millcraft and its real estate brokers are using the International Council of Shopping Centers convention in Las Vegas this week to develop an impressive list of interested tenants to take to that meeting with the governor in support of their argument that Pittsburgh can attract the best retailers.

Right now, they're working with a little more than 100,000 square feet of retail space, although none of the individual blocks would approach that size. Between Piatt Place -- the former Lazarus-Macy's building that Millcraft now owns -- and the two new developments to be called Market Place Square and Forbes Village, they've got room to be creative.

If these projects work out, they've got lots of ideas for other parts of the district. For example, they envision a multistory building that might be called Wood Street Lofts, while another Wood Street idea would include spaces that people could use as both offices and living spaces. The users of the so-called boutique spaces would be able to share services such as conference rooms and business support services.

Warner Centre, which stretches between Fifth and Forbes, could become an entertainment spot that might include nightclubs such as the House of Blues or even a theater. The developers have talked about donating funds to help create a Downtown dancing fountain, like the water and light feature at Station Square.

They also would like to see more transportation connections between Oakland, Station Square and other nearby areas to Downtown. "We just know we need connectivity," said Mr. Piatt.

At this point, most of those ideas are just ideas. But they could get the discussion going, he said.

If Millcraft doesn't own a particular building in the area, it might try to do a joint venture with the owner; but the inability to do one particular piece won't stop the overall effort. They also would consider developing more of the buildings owned by the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority, which owns the G.C. Murphy building that is supposed to become Market Place Square as well as those to be replaced by the proposed Forbes Village.

The fact that the URA owns so much property has been criticized over the years as making it difficult for private developers to do much Downtown. But Mr. Piatt said the collection of buildings was a big help. "I think it was a great investment," he said.

Continental Real Estate Cos. Chairman Frank Kass would love to persuade Equitable Resources to take a second office building on the North Shore, but he said his team would have to deliver first on its plans to make the area a bustling, vibrant community.

Equitable, which was the first business to move into the new North Shore development between the two stadiums, probably will need more space if its planned acquisition of Dominion Resources' gas distribution companies in Pennsylvania and West Virginia goes through.

For now the Continental staff is focused on an upcoming meeting with various officials involved with the light rail project that will help determine when construction on an apartment/condominium building across the street from Equitable can begin. The site is above a planned extension of the light rail line and has to be coordinated with that effort.

Mr. Kass said Continental has had three or four meetings at the shopping center convention with restaurant chains interested in the remaining spots in the Equitable and Del Monte office buildings. The mix includes a Pan-Asian restaurant, an Italian restaurant and a sports venue.

But, he said, three restaurants already signed up will not be open by the Major League Baseball All-Star game as originally planned. "We just couldn't get them done on time," he said. The Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse could open later in the summer but Calico Jack's Cantina and East Coast Saloon will take longer.


Teresa Lindeman can be reached at tlindeman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2018.


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