Transit hub, apartments, new shops in works for East Liberty

Mosites Co. continues its work with plans for 366 apartments, retail space and 595 parking spaces by mid-2014

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After bringing big developments such as Whole Foods and Target to East Liberty, a local developer is switching gears, with plans for more than 360 apartments and 50,000 square feet of retail in a project designed to work in concert with a new $52 million transit center.

The Mosites Co., based in Downtown, sees the $65 million development as the final phase in a series of so-called "Eastside" projects that have helped to trigger a commercial renaissance in the East End neighborhood.

Mosites hopes to break ground on the 366-unit apartment development, the additional retail space and 595 parking spaces by mid-2014.

But before that, it will partner with the Port Authority and the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority to help develop the new transit center, which will serve as the hub for nearly 1,000 bus arrivals and departures each day. The center also will help connect the East Busway to the East Liberty commercial corridor and create a new pedestrian link between East Liberty and neighboring Shadyside.

The URA board is expected to vote on a series of actions this week, including the sale of a portion of vacated Shakespeare Street to Mosites for $1, to help clear the way for the new developments.

Mark Minnerly, Mosites director of real estate development, said the purchase will complete the assembly of 6 acres needed for both projects and put officials in position to bid the transit center work in June or July.

In addition to the pedestrian link, the transit center will include a new bicycle garage and new platforms. A walkway using an old ramp for buses will help to connect the busway, currently below street level, to the commercial corridor.

On a broader scale, Mosites, city and East Liberty officials have seen the transit center as a key to development taking place in the corridor, from Target to the $120 million-plus Bakery Square 2.0 office/residential development at the former Reizenstein school to the boutique Ace hotel at the former YMCA building.

Mr. Minnerly called the center a "front door to development."

"This is really the jewel," he said.

The 6-acre development tract will stretch from Target on Penn Avenue to the Eastside II retail complex on Penn Circle South, which includes a Starbucks, a PNC Bank and a Walgreens. Mr. Minnerly said Whole Foods, Giant Eagle, Trader Joe's and Target will be within sight of the transit center and the adjacent apartment and retail development.

Development of the transit center was made possible through the award of a $15 million federal grant in June. The URA board also is seeking $20 million in state and federal loans as part of the creation of a transit-related investment district with the transit center as the cornerstone.

The apartment and retail development will be linked to the transit center by walkways and to Shadyside by a pedestrian bridge.

Mosites is planning ground-level retail on Centre and Penn avenues. The retail also will wind through plazas and pedestrian walkways to the elevated street facing the transit center. The developer plans 595 parking spaces under the elevated section.

In a statement, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl endorsed the developer's plans.

"This important development advances our shared vision for job creation and population growth. By connecting people with jobs and providing improved transportation access, we will continue to further Pittsburgh's third renaissance," he said.

Mr. Minnerly said Mosites decided that the site was better suited for residential than big-box retail, which it saw as "too clumsy" for the narrow site.

The retail that will be part of the project will consist of smaller stores complementary to the development taking place in the area.

While Target is doing "extremely well" in East Liberty, there is "evidence from looking at their sales and others that we could still use additional retail to anchor the district to make for a full shopping experience," he said. "East Liberty hasn't reached its full potential in that regard."

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Mark Belko: or 412-263-1262.


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