URA seeks developer for former Saks site

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The city's Urban Redevelopment Authority is seeking developers to pursue potential retail or residential opportunities in conjunction with the construction of a parking garage at the site of the former Saks Fifth Avenue department store Downtown.

URA board members are expected to approve the request for developers at their meeting Thursday. Yarone Zober, URA board chairman, said Tuesday that the goal is to identify the best uses for the retail space and air rights that will be part of the garage's development.

Also Thursday, the board is expected to vote to award a contract to demolish five buildings on Forbes Avenue to make way for the construction of The Gardens at Market Square, an 18-story office and hotel tower.

The URA moved in June to buy the Saks building on Smithfield Street for $4 million with the intent to demolish and replace it with a public parking garage and street level retail. It has since teamed with the Pittsburgh Parking Authority to develop the project.

In announcing the purchase, URA officials envisioned a garage of roughly 500 stalls as well as the development of quality street-level retail to help anchor the corridor after the loss of Saks, which closed its doors March 17 after more than 60 years Downtown. They also saw the potential for possible office, hotel or residential construction above the garage.

Mr. Zober, chief of staff to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, said the URA hopes to recruit a developer to identify potential retailers to fill the street level space and to guide it on the best type of development to pursue above the garage.

The recommendations could help the URA and the parking authority in determining the height and overall size of the proposed garage, the number of spaces it will hold, and whether it should have one or two levels of retail.

Knowing the value of the retail and air rights also could be helpful in deciding how to fund the garage, Mr. Zober said.

The URA hopes to have a developer selected this fall. Under its agreement to acquire the Saks property, the URA will retain the right to purchase the building for six months with the option to extend the option by another three months.

"At this point, we're still under the option period. We're still doing our due diligence to determine whether to acquire the property," Mr. Zober said.

If the sale is completed, the parking authority is expected to handle the construction of the garage, while the URA would be responsible for the ancillary development.

Meanwhile, Jadell Minniefield Construction Services is expected to be awarded a contract of up to $750,000 to demolish the five buildings at 218, 228, 230 and 242 Forbes Avenue to make way for The Gardens at Market Square. Jadell was the lowest of seven bidders for the work, according to the URA.

Developer Millcraft Industries hopes to complete the $81.8 million project by early 2014. It will feature 120,000 square feet of office space, 22,500 square feet of retail space and a 175-room Hilton Garden Inn hotel.

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Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262. First Published August 8, 2012 4:00 AM


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