URA drops developer for North Side's Masonic Hall



Developer Wayne Zukin has lost the right to redevelop the former Masonic Hall adjacent to the Garden Theater, part of a seven-building redevelopment on the North Side.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority announced its decision Wednesday to cut Mr. Zukin’s Allegheny City Development Group from the Masonic picture, in which City of Asylum Pittsburgh remains the eventual anchor tenant.

Mr. Zukin’s group at one time had exclusive rights to develop all the properties in the Federal-North corridor, but in December the URA began bringing other developers into the project. In an email Mr. Zukin wrote that he now is working only on the Garden Theater and is “excited to move forward with Dominic Branduzzi and his new concept ARDE restaurant.”

City of Asylum founders Henry Reese and Diane Samuels propose creating Alphabet City in the former Masonic Hall. It would be the nonprofit’s headquarters, literary center, bookstore, workshop and performance space and restaurant — an extension of the program they started in 2004 to support and house writers in danger in their own countries.

Mr. Reese has said he remains committed to the Masonic site.

“All options are being explored with URA, with the goal of expediting the creation of Alphabet City and opening in the summer of 2015,” he wrote in an email.

City officials said in a statement that they remain committed to it as well.

“We believe City of Asylum will be the cultural and social hub of the community and will spur revitalization of the Federal North area,” said Kevin Acklin, chief of staff for Mayor Bill Peduto.

Kyra Straussman, the URA’s director of real estate, said the URA is going “to work independently with City of Asylum to figure out what’s best for them, whether we can get them in by developing it through our internal affiliate,” the Pittsburgh Economic and Industrial Development Corp.

Mr. Zukin’s email stated that his group is “of course disappointed that we could not finish the project, but the powers that be have decided to go in a different direction. We intend to be a neighbor for the long term and hope that the rest of the block is developed with the care and respect that these historic structures deserve.”

Reconstruction of the former Garden Theater is on target to open as ARDE sometime next year, according to the URA.


Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626.

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