Garfield Heights complex to be demolished, rebuilt

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Rebuild our community, but don't scatter us to the four winds.

That was the sentiment in Garfield Heights yesterday, following a morning decision by the Pittsburgh Housing Authority to transform the complex.

Gone, eventually, will be the 326 row houses, in 58 buildings, that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development declared a failure in 1998.

Instead of squat, cookie-cutter buildings inhabited entirely by poor people, the authority wants to build 265 homes of various types, including single-family houses. Half will be public housing, a quarter affordable housing, and a quarter will be market-rate digs.

Good plan? "I think so," said Eva Taylor, a Fern Street resident who balances seven kids and two jobs. Just don't move her far. "I have so much stuff!"

Other residents worried that they'd have to temporarily move to other public housing neighborhoods, where their kids might be subjected to violence. Authority officials said they would try to keep moves to a minimum, by building first on the site of a demolished high-rise, and then demolishing vacant buildings first.

Construction isn't likely to begin for two years.

The authority hired KBK Enterprises, led by Keith B. Key, to rebuild the community. A former Garfield resident whose mother still lives in the neighborhood, he's now based in Columbus, Ohio.

The $21 million deal he won to complete the first 88 homes and a new community center is by far the largest ever by a city of Pittsburgh authority with a minority contractor, according to Phillipe Petite, manager of the city's Equal Opportunity Review Commission. Mr. Key is black.

KBK was chosen from five developers based on Mr. Key's 15-year development track record and history of creative financing, authority officials said. The authority will put $10 million into the first phase, and KBK plans to raise the rest from federal and state sources, and possibly use tax-increment financing for street reconstruction.

The final product, after three phases, will cost around $60 million, Mr. Key said.

"It will be one of the crown jewels that will turn our neighborhood around," said Aggie Brose, deputy director of the Bloomfield-Garfield Corp.

A goal is ending the isolation of Garfield Heights by building down the hill toward the rest of the neighborhood. "We would like to see this development touch the community in such a way that it revitalizes the neighborhood," said authority board Chairman Dennis Regan.

Separately, the board voted to demolish two senior-citizen high-rises. The Kelly Street High-Rise, in Homewood, will be replaced with a $15.5 million complex totalling around 110 apartments.

The site of the East Hills High-Rise, already vacant, is under consideration as a future site by Wal-Mart, Mr. Regan said.

Board member Twanda Carlisle, a city councilwoman, objected strenuously to the choice of Titan Wrecking and Environmental as the demolition contractor in East Hills. She cited safety complaints by residents in East Liberty, where Titan, of Kenmore, N.Y., has demolished buildings.

Mr. Regan said Titan was the low bidder, and should get the work, but agreed to carefully monitor the company's performance.


Rich Lord can be reached at rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542.


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