Point Park now giving Pittsburgh Playhouse relocation star billing

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A plan to move the Pittsburgh Playhouse from Oakland to Downtown could be on a fast track.

Point Park University has now made the relocation of the playhouse to the site of the former Honus Wagner Co. sporting goods store on Forbes Avenue the priority for the next phase of its $244 million academic village initiative.

"We have decided to focus right now on the playhouse," university spokeswoman Mary Ellen Solomon said.

The decision moves the playhouse construction ahead of plans for a $32 million student and convocation center featuring a 1,000-seat basketball arena to be built on the Boulevard of the Allies next to the former YMCA building. Point Park had hoped to start construction of the center by the end of 2012.

But Ms. Solomon said the university has delayed that project because the interim student center, located in the former Y that is now owned by Point Park, has proved to be functional.

PG graphic: Point Park University playhouse relocation
(Click image for larger version)

It also took into account the other development taking place on Forbes near the playhouse site, including construction of the $400 million Tower at PNC Plaza, a 33-story skyscraper on the other side of the street, and the Gardens at Market Square, an $81.8 million office and hotel tower a block away.

"It made the timing right for the university to focus on the playhouse," Ms. Solomon said.

She would not give a target date for the start of construction, saying that plans have not been completed. "We don't have a firm date at this point as to when construction will start," she said.

However, The Globe, Point Park's student newspaper, reported that the project could start next year and be completed as early as 2016.

The new playhouse is expected to feature three theaters ranging from 150 to 500 seats each as well as production and teaching areas. It will be tied into the school's existing university center, which has an entrance on Forbes next to the playhouse site.

However, Point Park has dropped plans to include a parking garage and a residence hall at the site, Ms. Solomon said.

The university estimates the cost of the playhouse construction at roughly $45 million. While some of the money will come from the university, it is seeking help from foundations, individuals and public sources. Ms. Solomon would not say how much has been raised so far. "We continue to work on this phase. We do not have anything to share in terms of details at this point," she said.

The relocation of the playhouse has been on the drawing boards since at least 2007, when a panel of experts convened by the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Land Institute urged the university to make the move.

City officials also have been pressing the college to start the project, since it would bring a top cultural amenity into the heart of Downtown and eliminate some vacant storefronts. The playhouse would be located about five blocks from the city's cultural district.

The project not only firms up Point Park's presence Downtown, "it cleans up what is now a block that they own, much of which is vacant, and it will add to vitality of the overall Pittsburgh experience," said Yarone Zober, chief of staff to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and chairman of the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority board.

Last year, a task force convened by the mayor that studied Downtown also endorsed the move, saying it would help to create a new gateway to Smithfield Street.

Mr. Zober said that while the university has not asked the URA for any funding help, "we have continued to say to them that we're willing to help them in any way that we can."

Although the university has dropped plans for a residence hall at the playhouse site, it has been talking to the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation about putting student housing on the upper floors of two buildings the foundation is restoring on Wood Street near the center of its campus.

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Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262. First Published January 23, 2013 5:00 AM


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