Developer scales down grandiose project for Mount Washington

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Some five years after it was first proposed, a developer is scrapping plans for a grandiose $100 million hotel-condominium project on Mount Washington in favor of a more modest apartment complex.

Gone will be the 20-story high-rise featuring a four- to five-star, 163-room luxury hotel. Gone will be about 58 condos perched on a cliff overlooking Downtown. Gone, apparently, will be amenities like a scenic overlook and a giant plaza that would have been open to the public.

Instead, Sycamore Grandview Development is proposing to construct about 300 market rate apartments in four buildings wrapped around a "grand central yard" at the four-acre site at the end of Grandview Avenue near the Monongahela Incline.

Developer Beau Beemsterboer is expected to present the revised plans to the community at a meeting Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at the Mount Washington Senior Center.

Neither Mr. Beemsterboer nor Charles L. "Luke" Desmone, the Pittsburgh architect who has been working with him on the project, could be reached for comment Friday.

But representatives for the Mount Washington Community Development Corp. said the developer apparently decided to revise and scale back the project because of problems in obtaining financing to pay for the hotel-condo complex.

"As far as I understand, it was financing. I think the issue was that they couldn't get the money for what they originally wanted to do," said Jason Kambitsis, executive director of the Mount Washington CDC.

James Eash, the CDC's director of economic development, said the same trend has been at work in other parts of the city, where condos have taken a back seat to apartment building.

"Right now, what we're seeing across the city is a lot of apartments going up, especially Downtown," he said.

As with the condos, the new apartments are expected to be higher end in price. Three of the buildings will have at least some frontage facing the Downtown skyline.

Based on what has been presented to the Mount Washington CDC so far, about half of the apartments will be two-bedroom units. Another 40 percent will be one-bedroom and the rest studios.

The complex also will feature a 500-space parking garage, a fitness center, and a restaurant with a deck that overlooks Downtown. But some of the former elements, like the giant plaza, don't appear to be part of the new plans.

"It's not anywhere near as substantial as the other one," Mr. Kambitsis said.

Both he and Mr. Eash are interested to see what the community reaction will be to the change of plans. Many residents embraced the grand hotel-condo complex, saying it had the potential to be an iconic attraction and stimulate development in the neighborhood.

"I think there's going to be some disappointment there, but I also think there's an opportunity for something really positive for the neighborhood and the city," Mr. Eash said.

Even though no development has taken place on the property, Mr. Beemsterboer followed through on a commitment to demolish the former Edge restaurant, a rotting eyesore that marred the site for years.

"That brought him a lot of goodwill in the neighborhood," Mr. Eash said. "A lot of people, I think, they'll be happy to see a project at the site."

The revisions will have to go before the city planning commission for approval. No formal plans have been submitted to the city to date.

City Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith, who represents Mount Washington, said the new plan constitutes a "significant change," adding that she wants to hear what the community has to say about it.

"I think everyone would love to see some property on the tax rolls. That's a positive of the development. But at the same time, I don't know that it's something the community will support in that area at this time," she said.

In addition, the councilwoman wants to discuss with city planning ways to assure that projects that are presented for approval end up being completed. She said there are developments throughout the city that are approved but never seem to get off the drawing board.

With the new project, Mr. Beemsterboer needs to show "there's some likelihood of funding being in place," she said. Mr. Eash said the developer has told him that he is "very confident" that he will be able to get financing for the apartments.

The condo-hotel complex isn't the first Mount Washington project to fall by the wayside. In the 1990s, a Ritz-Carlton Hotel was considered for the same site but never developed. At the opposite end of Grandview, a lot that was to be the site of a proposed condominium high-rise has been sitting empty for years.

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


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