Developers offer plan for former Saks site

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The site of the former Saks department store Downtown could become a multi-story parking garage framed by retail and topped by a residential tower under a proposal to be considered by the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority board today.

Under the plan, Millcraft Investments and McKnight Realty Partners would team with the city's parking authority to redevelop the Saks building on Smithfield Street and two URA-owned properties at 339 and 347 Fifth Ave.

The proposal calls for the construction of 101 apartments above the parking garage, which would be built at the Saks site, and 20,000 square feet of retail space on Smithfield and Fifth.

Yarone Zober, URA board chairman and chief of staff to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, said the proposal was one of three the URA received following a request to developers in August for the redevelopment of the Saks site for residential and retail uses. One of the other proposals involved the construction of a hotel.

The Millcraft-McKnight plan "was the best of the three proposals by far," Mr. Zober said.

URA board members will vote today on whether to enter into 90 days of exclusive negotiations with the developers on the project, with the option to extend the period by another 60 days.

Millcraft Investments is a subsidiary of Millcraft Industries, the Washington County developer that has redeveloped the former G.C. Murphy and Lazarus-Macy's stores and the former State Office Building, Downtown. McKnight Realty was responsible for the redevelopment of the former Gimbel's department store on Smithfield and is the owner of the Henry W. Oliver Building next door. It plans to convert part of that structure into a hotel.

One of the principals in McKnight is William Rudolph, a URA board member. Mr. Zober said Mr. Rudolph has recused himself in discussions involving the property and will continue to do so.

As part of the deal, Millcraft and McKnight would be responsible for developing the retail components of the project. Each also would pay to have a certain number of parking spaces built in the garage in support of the apartment units and the hotel at the nearby Oliver Building.

The parking authority would be responsible for financing and building the spaces available to the public. The URA has envisioned a garage of roughly 500 spaces. The cost of the proposed Millcraft-McKnight project was not known.

URA officials moved in June with an offer to buy the Saks building for $4 million with the intent to demolish and replace it with a public parking garage and street level retail. The building became available after tony retailer Saks closed its doors on March 17 after more than three decades at the location and more than 60 years Downtown. Under the agreement to acquire the Saks property, the URA retained the right to purchase the building for six months with the option to extend that by another three months.

neigh_city - businessnews

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


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