Sale of Allegheny County health building approved

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After countless delays, officials say it's finally true -- Allegheny County is on the cusp of selling its dilapidated Health Department headquarters in Oakland.

A county council committee tentatively approved the $4.9 million sale through Thursday, clearing the way for a $30 million building project that could see a new apartment building, office complex or hotel built on the prime parcel, which sits between Fifth and Forbes avenues near Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC.

The full council will consider the deal next month.

Developer Gary Wilson says he's serious about the project. Although it has been on hold for six years -- a recession and faltering real estate market postponed original plans -- Mr. Wilson's firm showed its commitment in December by handing over $2.5 million to the county as security.

"We're anxious to get started," he said.

But in return, he wants more flexibility. The original agreement of sale required Downtown real estate firm Langholz Wilson Ellis to build a hotel, an office building and off-street parking on the site.

The developers are now asking for a pick-two option. While they're definitely building new parking, they'd like the additional option of building a 120-unit luxury apartment building, which they say could give the county more tax revenue. That would be in addition to either a hotel or an office building.

The agreement of sale requires the property to remain on the tax rolls, meaning the developers can't turn around and sell the whole block to neighboring nonprofit UPMC.

Council acquiesced, securing promises for sufficient parking and confirmation that the project would allow residents to take advantage of the planned bus rapid transit system running nearby.

The total project cost could hit $30 million. The sale must be completed by Feb. 28.

The 40 or so health employees working in the Oakland building have already been transferred to a temporary office at Kane Regional Center at Glen Hazel. By the fall, they'll move to a new home Downtown in the old county morgue, which is undergoing renovations.

Andrew McGill: or 412-263-1497.

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