Dowd questions sale of John P. Robin Civic Building


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It's been more than a year since the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh reached a deal with a Philadelphia developer to convert the John P. Robin Civic Building on Ross Street into apartments and retail space.

But since then, nothing has happened at the site, and city Councilman Patrick Dowd is raising questions about the proposed sale to PMC Property Group.

Mr. Dowd has summoned city, URA and housing authority officials, all part owners of the property, to a post-agenda meeting today to discuss the sale of the 13-story building and the rationale behind it.

The building houses government offices, including those dealing with planning, zoning and permitting matters, making it a frequent stop for the public. PMC is proposing to buy it for $1 million and replace the office space with 100 apartments.

Mr. Dowd said he wants to know whether the building is being sold simply as a means to generate cash for the city or whether it's part of a plan to improve service to the public.

"There are a lot of important things going on in the building. It's important to know what the mayor has in mind. It sounds to me like it's just a cash grab, but I could be wrong," he said.

He feared that relocating city services to another part of Downtown, the Strip District or elsewhere could make it difficult for the public to access them.

"Selling a building just to make money is not a way to improve customer service," he said.

Mr. Dowd said he has heard that the city intends to move some employees to a proposed Buncher Co. office building in the Strip District.

Paul Svoboda, special projects manager for the URA, said Mayor Luke Ravenstahl believes the building should be converted to residential use and returned to the tax rolls rather than remain a public facility.

Even if city and authority employees were to stay put, the building requires major capital expenses to bring it to modern standards, he said.

The reason completing the sale has taken so long is that the city, URA and housing authority are trying to decide whether it makes more sense to rent space in another building or to buy another building to house workers, he said.

Mr. Svoboda acknowledged that Buncher has made a proposal to house employees and the city is considering it. He would not say where the building is located. Buncher, he added, is just "one of many landlords" that have approached the city about housing workers.

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


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