Schenley High developer envisions up to 178 apartments

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At a public presentation of their plans Monday night, the developers who want to buy the former Pittsburgh Schenley High School in Oakland described their $36.9 million project, which would turn the historic building into an estimated 178 luxury one- and two-bedroom apartments with parking places inside and outside the building.

PMC/Schenley HSB Associates LP, which is associated with PMC Property Group of Philadelphia, bid $5.2 million for the building, the highest of four bids received.

The board of Pittsburgh Public Schools is scheduled to vote Feb. 27, but the board reserved the right to reject any and all bids. The one from PMC won the recommendation of a review panel put together by Fourth River Development, which the board hired to oversee the marketing and bidding process for the building.

At the same time, there are those who want to reopen Schenley as a school. Last week, the district released two new estimates of how much such a renovation would cost, $53.2 million and $59.4 million.

One member of the audience asked why PMC could develop the building as apartments for so much less. Pete Camarda, chief financial and operations officer for the district, said the district has additional requirements that add to the cost, including a legal requirement to use five prime contractors.

Jerold Novick, executive vice president and general counsel of PMC Property Group, said it's "much easier to build as a private party than a public entity."

The work PMC does will be governed by the requirements of the National Park Service so that it can earn historic tax credits. Those requirements will affect how much the width of the corridors can be altered. Mr. Novick said he expects the restrictions will result in fewer than 178 apartments.

The plans include about 50 inside parking places and 75 outside ones as well as some bicycle parking. Mr. Novick said the firm expects to meet the parking requirements without a variance.

The plans call for leaving the auditorium intact, but there are no plans to use it. They also call for keeping the addition with the pool and the gym. The pool likely wouldn't be used, but the gym may become an amenity for residents.

Working with the PMC on design is Strada, a local design firm. Edward Shriver, a principal in Strada, said plans call for keeping the exterior the same, "only cleaner."

Schenley is shaped like a triangle. In the basement, one leg of the triangle is below grade, so that would be used for parking rather than apartments. Apartments would be on all three sides of the ground floor and first, second and third floors.

About 25 people attended the session, many of them residents of nearby Schenley Farms. One of their major concerns was whether the building would end up as student housing.

Mr. Novick said the firm has no agreements with any universities and would be using expensive finishes in the apartments that would make tenants more likely to be young professionals along with some graduate students.

While he said the company cannot legally refuse to rent to students, Mr. Novick said, "We never had intent to do student housing here."

After the meeting, school board member Regina Holley, who wants the district to reopen Schenley as a school, said, "I think if they can't fill that building with tenants, they're going to use it as student housing. They're developers. They're here to make money."

After the meeting, Norm Cleary, president of the Schenley Farms Civic Association and a member of the review panel that recommended PMC, said he thinks this is the "best financial offer for the school district."

He said, "If the school district chooses to pass this time and we find ourselves back here again, I think it's pretty unlikely they'll get a better deal."

In 2011, PMC Property Group of Philadelphia was the unsuccessful bidder for Schenley at $2 million. Mr. Novick said that bid was made in about a week, and the firm had more time to study this one.

PMC entered the Downtown market in 2010, and its work includes 201 Stanwix Place, a reuse of the former Verizon building.

Mr. Novick said PMC has more than 6,500 residential units, more than 1 million square feet of office space, 150,000 square feet of industrial space and more than 100,000 square feet of retail space in seven states. It has done 25 historic renovations.

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Education writer Eleanor Chute: echute@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1955.


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