Station Square explores life without slots on 5-acre site

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After losing its bid for Pittsburgh's lone slot machine casino, Station Square's owner is preparing to move on.

   

Graphic: Station Square site

   

Forest City Enterprises, which owns the South Side riverfront complex, is marketing for redevelopment the five-acre site that once housed the Chevrolet Amphitheatre.

The company put up signs last week advertising it as a "development site."

Tom Schneck II, director of marketing for Station Square, said that virtually everything is on the table, from residential housing, to offices, to more restaurant and entertainment options, maybe even a hotel.

"It's pretty much an open game at this point," he said.

He added there is no timetable for making a decision.

"This is all really exploratory. We want to gauge interest and develop a master plan for the undeveloped part of the property," he said.

Not so long ago, the site was a key part of Forest City's bid for the city casino. A $500 million slots palace, to be operated by gambling power Harrah's Entertainment, and a parking garage would have occupied the site.

Those plans evaporated in December when the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board picked PITG Gaming LLC, headed by Detroit businessman Don Barden, over Station Square Gaming and Isle of Capri Casinos Inc. to get the casino license. The state Supreme Court upheld the award last month.

Now, Forest City is looking to develop a "plan B" for the prime riverfront property west of the Sheraton Station Square Hotel, Mr. Schneck said.

It is interested in leasing or perhaps even selling all or part of the five-acre parcel to a developer or partnering with another company in a redevelopment.

"We're definitely looking for the right opportunity, not just anything at this point, but something that would mix with the current development of the land," Mr. Schneck said.

Besides residential, office, entertainment and retail options, he noted there also may be further potential to expand the Sheraton, where 104 rooms were added earlier in the decade. Another option is to build a new hotel to complement the Sheraton, he said.

The Chevrolet Amphitheatre was shut down after the 2006 season, leaving the large tract of vacant land. At the end of this year, Harrah's, which sold its interest in Station Square to Forest City in 1998, will lose its option to build a casino east or west of the Sheraton. The option effectively tied up land that otherwise could have been used for development.

With the option expiring, Forest City will have the chance to start fresh, and perhaps do something "even more dynamic" than the $25 million Bessemer Court project which opened in 2002, Mr. Schneck said.

It added a 100-foot-wide dancing fountain, the Hard Rock Cafe, Bar Louie, the Red Star Tavern, Joe's Crab Shack and other amenities to Station Square.

"Bessemer Court was done five years ago and it's time to take the next step. We've never been allowed to do that next step [because of the option]," Mr. Schneck said.

Kevin Langholz, principal in Langholz Wilson Ellis Inc., a local real estate company, does not believe Forest City will have any trouble attracting interest in the property, given that it's prime riverfront real estate.

Mr. Langholz said the site offers a variety of potential uses, from high-end residential with a possible marina, to office development similar to that occurring on the North Shore, to an extension of the Station Square entertainment mix.

"I think that the historical success and the attractiveness of Station Square and the quality of the development would attract other regional and national entertainment venues, including restaurants, potentially hotels, retail," he said.

Mr. Schneck said interest in other vacant Station Square properties, such as the former Cheese Cellar and Rebecca Tambellini's restaurants and unused space behind Joe's Crab Shack, has increased now that the uncertainty over the casino has dissipated.

"The question mark isn't there," he said.

As part of its casino plan, Forest City had proposed as many as 1,200 condominium units on the east side of Station Square, where a former warehouse now houses several clubs and restaurants.


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


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