Mayor's search for Fifth-Forbes developer is winding down

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Pittsburgh Mayor Bob O'Connor is entering the final leg of his search for a developer to rejuvenate the downtrodden Fifth and Forbes retail corridor Downtown.

In an interview yesterday, Mr. O'Connor said he hopes to make a selection in two to three weeks, after completing meetings with one or two more developers who have expressed interest in the work.

"We want to make sure that we have not only the best plan but the developer who can deliver," he said.

Next week, Mr. O'Connor plans to meet with Ralph Falbo to discuss his vision for the Fifth and Forbes avenues corridor.

Mr. Falbo, who is developing the 151 First Side condominium tower on Fort Pitt Boulevard, pitched plans in February for $75 million to $100 million in redevelopment, including construction of an 18- to 20-story residential building bordering Forbes and Fourth avenues. He also proposed reusing the old G.C. Murphy's store for residential and retail.

The city also is trying to arrange a meeting with Washington, D.C.-based developer Madison Marquette, which has worked with the private Pittsburgh Task Force on a $50 million to $60 million retail and residential plan for lower Fifth Avenue involving Murphy's and other city-owned structures in the corridor.

Mr. O'Connor has been uneasy, however, about the high public subsidies -- $24 million -- the developer originally sought for the project and refused to give the firm exclusive rights to develop the city-owned buildings in February.

While there's some talk that Madison Marquette's interest in the corridor has waned, Jerome Dettore, city Urban Redevelopment Authority executive director, said he is talking to the firm about possible dates for a presentation to the mayor.

"They have not confirmed that they're going to do it yet, but we talked about dates and I assume they're putting together their team or strategy," he said. "They are talking to me, which tells me that they have some level of interest."

Mr. O'Connor already has received a proposal from Washington County developer Millcraft Industries Inc. for $217 million in redevelopment that would involve 45,000 square feet of offices, 200,000 square feet of stores, and 805 residences. Millcraft is spending $52 million to turn the former Lazarus-Macy's department store into a retail, residential and office complex.

Besides Mr. Falbo, Madison Marquette and Millcraft, Mr. O'Connor said there could be "one or two others" with an interest in making a pitch for work in the corridor.

But if they want to be included, they better hurry.

The mayor said he wants to have a decision on a developer or a team of developers within a couple of weeks and then make the relationship more formal through a letter of intent, exclusive options or some other arrangement.

"He certainly is on track to get things resolved here, which is pretty exciting," Mr. Dettore said.

Running concurrently with the selection of a developer will be the work of architect Don Carter and his firm, Urban Design Associates.

In conjunction with developers, city agencies, City Council and various Downtown stakeholders, Mr. Carter's firm is trying to build a consensus on which blocks of the Fifth and Forbes corridor should be retail versus residential, how building designs and city blocks should mesh, and how sidewalks and lighting should look. The product that emerges would serve as guidelines for developers working in the corridor.

"They're just going to complement what a developer is doing," Mr. O'Connor said.


Mark Belko can be reached at mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.


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