Wood Street buildings Downtown bought by foundation

Women's fashion district planned

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The Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation is set to acquire two buildings Downtown as part of its bid to establish a women's fashion district on Wood Street near the site of the new PNC high-rise.

Landmarks Development Corp., a foundation subsidiary, plans to buy the buildings at 420 and 422 Wood St. from the Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority for $500,000. The URA board is expected to vote on the purchases at its meeting Thursday.

Foundation officials intend to rehabilitate the first floors of the two buildings for use by a single retailer and to convert the upper floors into apartments or offices. Both structures are now vacant, except for Pop-Up Pittsburgh art projects on the first floor. The foundation also has been talking to Point Park University about putting student housing on the upper floors.

The two buildings represent two of the last three unrestored cast iron fronts in the city. The other, privately owned, is adjacent to them at 418 Wood. The URA acquired 420 Wood for $220,000 in 2009. It paid $280,000 for 422 Wood the next year.

Both acquisitions are part of a vision by Landmarks president Arthur Ziegler to create a women's fashion district on Wood between Fourth and Fifth avenues, similar to the selection of men's stores on Fifth between Wood and Liberty Avenue.

The foundation already owns several properties on the other side of Wood, one of which houses Boutique la Passerelle, a women's clothing and accessories store.

Mr. Ziegler could not be reached for comment Tuesday. But John Valentine, the executive director of the Downtown Pittsburgh Community Development Corp. who has been helping to recruit women's clothing retailers to Wood, said 26 qualified boutiques have shown "serious interest" in the endeavor. The problem is that there are only seven spaces available.

"We have much more demand than we do supply," he said.

The facades of 420 and 422 Wood, along with that at 418 Wood, are being restored as part of the Downtown Preservation Project, a program created to help rejuvenate older buildings in the Golden Triangle. It was made possible through a $4 million state redevelopment assistance capital grant. The foundation is overseeing the initiative for the city. The redevelopment cost of the two buildings is estimated at $618,387.

Yarone Zober, chief of staff to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and URA board chairman, said he was comfortable with the price the URA got for the buildings. He said the goal is to take underperforming properties Downtown and turn liabilities into assets.

"It's another step forward in realizing the mayor's vision for economic development in Pittsburgh," he said. "That vision in part is looking at Downtown and approaching it one building, one block at a time."

Also on Thursday, the URA board will decide whether to enter into a year of exclusive negotiations with KBK Enterprises to build about 50 rental housing units in Larimer, 40 low income and 10 market rate. The exclusive period will expire if KBK does not receive low-income tax credits for the project. The board also will consider entering into the same period of exclusive negotiations with S&A Homes and Oxford Development Co. for 25 to 30 rental units in Homewood. As with the other, the exclusive period will end if the developers don't obtain low-income tax credits.

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Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.


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