Pittsburgh developer Elmhurst Group seeks tax break for Oakland project

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Parking in Oakland is like the old Yogi Berra quote: "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded."

That's why a developer is asking for a tax break to build a $31 million office building at Bayard Street and Ruskin Avenue, arguing the lack of parking nearby will force them to carve out an expensive underground garage.

Ironically, the site is currently a church parking lot.

"Had there been a public parking lot nearby, we probably would not have been here," Bill Hunt, president and CEO of the Elmhurst Group, told Allegheny County Council's economic development committee last week. "We did not plan to do this project and ask for public assistance."

Council will vote on Mr. Hunt's proposal Tuesday night. His request for a Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance Act exemption has already been approved by the city of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Public Schools.

Under the LERTA, Elmhurst wouldn't pay property taxes on the proposed seven-story building for two years. The company would then gradually pay more and more, starting with 10 percent of the taxes owed and reaching 100 percent by the 10th year.

Mr. Hunt estimated the building would generate 100 jobs during construction and host about 250 workers once it is completed. The three-story underground garage, which will cost $4 million to build, would probably be open to the public, he said.

County council members seemed open to the idea, passing it along to the full council for a vote. Heather Heidelbaugh, R-Mt. Lebanon, was the sole dissenter, arguing the county shouldn't be in the business of helping one builder over another.

If a developers wants to build on a site with no parking, that's fine, she said. But taxpayers shouldn't foot the bill to build a garage that investors could build themselves.

"We can't be in the position of saying to companies, 'We're not going to make you pay taxes,' " she told Mr. Hunt. "Once we start doing that, we're picking favorites."

Mr. Hunt disagreed, explaining that building the parking garage without taxpayer support would have sent rents soaring, likely dooming the venture.

"Without the LERTA, this might be a parking lot for a long, long time," he said.

neigh_city - businessnews

Andrew McGill: amcgill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1497.


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