Iron City Brewery developers' plan hits resistance
December 8, 2012 5:00 AM
The Iron City Brewery complex as seen from Liberty Avenue.
By Diana Nelson Jones Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Developers of the former Iron City Brewery have made public their plan to reuse the Lawrenceville property as a multiuse complex that would bring down six more buildings, but neighborhood stakeholders say the plan is premature and does not reflect the core issue of preservation.
Tim Frew, the project manager for Collier Development -- the firm that bought the 9.5-acre property in January -- said Collier wants to begin pre-construction in the spring, but release of the plan after just two community meetings and without approval of the master plan steering committee has complicated things.
Matthew Galluzzo, executive director of Lawrenceville Corp., met with Mr. Frew Thursday as the representative of the steering committee, which is made up of Lawrenceville advocacy and development organizations and representatives from city Councilman Patrick Dowd and state Sen. Jim Ferlo.
Mr. Galluzzo said he "made more than clear to Collier that the half-baked plan described to the media does not have the necessary community support to be advanced. It's nowhere near where it needs to be to get that endorsement."
Mr. Frew said the reuse plan Collier has projected would include restorations of the buildings along Liberty Avenue and the 1884 brew house and the keg storage building built in 1886. The cost would surpass $100 million to create apartments and offices, a 100-room hotel, a reflecting pool around the renovated brick smokestack, a courtyard with an open air market, an 800-car parking garage with a walking track and green features on the roof, shops, restaurants, a brewery museum and steps as a connection to Herron Avenue.
The developers and their architects have met twice with residents and other stakeholders to plan the reuse of the property. A third session is pending.
Mr. Frew said the plan he made public came out of those meetings. He chose not to be quoted to explain.
Mr. Galluzzo said Collier presented three options at the public planning meetings, each with a different number of demolitions.
"To the steering committee, it was clear that a reframing had to be done," he said. "This is not just attractive land. This is the historic brewery site. We can talk about connectivity and mixed use but at the core, preservation is the key issue.
"There have been a series of actions on the site that have undermined the legitimacy of the process we're trying to undertake," he said. "We still hope we can get a product out of this that can have a level of consensus, but it's a long way off."
The revelation that Collier's plan would demolish six additional buildings has riled preservationists, who have been agitating for enforcement of the historic code since two unpermitted demolitions landed the company in court this year. The top 20 feet of the smokestack were also removed. Mr. Frew said the top bricks were precarious and had to be removed in order for the smokestack to be restored.
The site became a city-designated historic property in 2010. A historic property is protected by the city's historic code and can be demolished only if the Historic Review Commission finds cause and approves.
Carol Peterson and Keith Cochran, members of the Lawrenceville Stakeholders, nominated it. They said their application included all 14 buildings.
This summer, Collier Development took down three -- the first of which the Historic Review Commission had previously approved for demolition; Mr. Frew said the two that were razed afterward were compromised by the first. Besides having no demolition permits for those, the company did not submit to the historic review process.
The company was fined in district court last summer and appealed in Common Pleas Court, where Judge Robert Gallo this month reduced the fine from $20,000 to $8,500. He did not explain his decision, but Collier's attorney Chad Michaelson might have opened the door to legally justify demolitions. Though designated as historic, the property was not designated a historic district. A district takes in all buildings in the set boundaries. Without that specification, Mr. Michaelson argued, some buildings among the brewery's 14 might not be protected.
A letter sent Wednesday to city, county and state officials and preservation organizations from Ms. Peterson, Mr. Cochran, Lauren Byrne, executive director of Lawrenceville United, and Alexis Miller, board president of the Polish Hill Civic Association, asked the city to cease all permits and to order work stopped until its representatives can meet with them. They claim the city has not honored their request for a meeting in the past.
The letter challenges the intent behind the master plan process and accuses Collier of using it as "a cynical attempt to build a legal case for demolition."