Residents' input spurs revisions at Grandview


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After scrapping a grandiose hotel and condo project on Mount Washington in favor of apartments, a developer once again is tinkering with plans for the development.

The 300 apartments won't be changing, but developer Beau Beemsterboer is adding an overlook and building a more "iconic" tower at the site of the former Edge restaurant at the east end of Grandview Avenue.

Charles L. "Luke" Desmone, the architect for the project, said Thursday the changes are being made to address concerns and comments raised by residents at meetings to discuss the switch from the hotel/condo project to the apartment complex.

As part of the latest revisions, a "stage-like" platform will be built just east of the Monongahela Incline and will offer visitors views of the Downtown skyline. While part of the proposed apartment complex, Mr. Desmone said the goal is to have the observation deck open to visitors.

The architect sees the deck as "the first leg" of the 720-foot, glass-enclosed stairway that would run down the mountainside to Carson Street that he first proposed in 2008 as part of the One Grandview Avenue hotel and condominium project.

He said the deck was a response to residents who wanted to see "more ability for visitors to interact with the project." As part of the $100 million hotel and condo project, Mr. Beemsterboer and Mr. Desmone had proposed a giant plaza facing Downtown that would have been open to the public.

The developer also is increasing the height of one of the proposed apartment buildings at the site from 13 stories to 20 stories in an attempt to satisfy residents who want to see an "iconic" tower as part of the complex.

Mr. Desmone said 15 of those stories will rise above Grandview Avenue. The total number of apartments to be built in the overall project will remain at 300. The developer simply will take some apartments from one building and add them to another near Wyoming Street to create the larger tower.

The original hotel tower for the One Grandview Avenue project would have been 25 stories.

"I like the new design. It will be iconic," Mr. Desmone said.

He said that no drawings would be made available until after he presented the revised project to the city's contextual design advisory panel next week.

Moving some apartments from one building to another also allowed Mr. Desmone to add courtyard space within the complex as well. He said he sees that space being used for events like farmers markets, performances and concerts that would allow for limited public access.

The total cost of the revised project has yet to be determined. Half of the 300 units will be two bedrooms, 40 percent will be one bedroom and the rest will be studios.

Mr. Desmone said the developer was forced to ditch the plans for the hotel and condos in favor of apartments because banks were "not interested in financing a four- to five-star hotel in Pittsburgh let alone Mount Washington." Nor did banks want to touch the condo market, which has not been strong in recent years.

"They were not going to lend money on condominiums. The other side of the coin is the huge demand for apartments and there's money available for it so it made sense to shift the program," he said.

While Mr. Desmone said he was disappointed about having to give up a dream project, he added, "I'm an absolute realist about what the marketplace will allow you to do. It's one thing to have a dream, but if you can't fund it, you get over it."

Mr. Desmone said that Mount Washington residents who attended a meeting earlier this week seemed to be receptive to the changes.

Jason Kambitsis, executive director of the Mount Washington Community Development Corp., said the organization is glad that the developer is willing to talk to residents and use that input to craft a design.

"They're definitely listening to what people have to say at this point," he said.

Mr. Desmone said he hopes to get city approval for the revised project in November and would like to start construction in the spring. The first units should be ready by mid 2016, he said.

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Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.


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