Gardens at Market Square project gets first OK on financing

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While giving preliminary approval to a financing plan for a new Downtown development, Pittsburgh City Council on Wednesday urged the developer to continue working to address neighbors' concerns with the project.

Brian Walker, chief financial officer for Millcraft Industries, said he hopes to break ground on the $82 million Gardens at Market Square by Feb. 1. The development, straddling Fourth and Forbes avenues outside Market Square, will include 120,000 square feet of office space, 23,000 square feet of retail, a 176-room hotel and a 300-space parking garage.

Council gave preliminary approval to an $8.1 million tax-increment financing plan despite objections from occupants of the nearby Benedum Trees and Investment buildings.

Occupants of Benedum Trees, noting their building will be only 5 feet from Millcraft's hotel, said they anticipated a greater separation and argued that adjustments to the developer's hotel configuration could provide additional breathing space. The neighbors complained about increased traffic, restaurant exhaust fumes and use of Fourth Avenue as a "service alley" for the development.

Councilman Ricky Burgess asked Mr. Walker to meet with Paul Graves, an architect and one of the Benedum Trees neighbors, to discuss the concerns before council takes a final vote on the financing plan Monday. The two agreed to meet Friday.

Mr. Walker said he's willing to work with the neighbor but noted, "We have done everything by the book."

Robert Rubinstein, acting executive director of the city Urban Redevelopment Authority, urged council to approve the financing plan. A handful of authority-owned buildings on Forbes -- stretching from the former George Aiken site to the former Fotohut -- will be demolished to make way for Millcraft's development.

Mr. Rubinstein said Allegheny County and Pittsburgh Public Schools already approved financing plans for the project.

The neighbors' concerns notwithstanding, council members praised Millcraft's willingness to address previous concerns over storm-water management and other issues. "You've set the bar higher for a lot of folk," Councilman Patrick Dowd said.

Council postponed a vote on legislation that would create a special zoning district for another developer, Buncher Co., which plans a mixed-use development along the Allegheny River in the Strip District. Mr. Dowd said the vote was postponed so the legislation could be amended to address council members' concerns.

neigh_city - businessnews

Joe Smydo: jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548.


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