URA takes stake in Downtown parking garage project

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Pittsburgh's Urban Redevelopment Authority voted Thursday to join a complex plan to build a new 600-space parking garage Downtown, plus stores and potential development above.

The authority will ask the city to dedicate 75 percent of the parking taxes paid by the new Smithfield Street garage, for 20 years, to help finance the project. That would generate around $6 million of the $35.3 million needed to build the garage.

A "somewhat unique attribute" of the deal, according to URA acting executive director Robert Rubinstein, is the agency's ownership stake in the development. The URA will own one-third of the project and get that share of the cash flow, while private developers Millcraft Investments and McKnight Realty Partners will own the rest.

Mr. Rubinstein said the agency will get that stake in return for providing the land, which is the site of the shuttered Saks Fifth Avenue department store. The URA won't be burdened by any debt associated with the site, he said.

The developers are in negotiations with tenants for the ground floor retail spaces. They have not decided yet whether housing or office space would eventually rise atop the garage.

URA board member Bill Rudolph, a principal in McKnight Realty Partners, left the room for the discussion and vote on the project.

The board also voted to negotiate the sale to Paragon Foods of lots in Upper Lawrenceville, so the company can expand its distribution business and explore urban vegetable farming. Mr. Rubinstein said the URA is in negotiations with the Buncher Co. to cancel options that firm had on those parcels and on other pieces of Lawrenceville land.

In a 4-1 vote, the board agreed to provide $40,000 to the Hill District Community Development Corp. to pay expenses associated with the hiring of Miami-based law firm Greenberg Traurig for help finalizing a contract with the Penguins. The community group and the team are in talks about neighborhood benefits from the redevelopment of the Civic Arena site.

Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle, who represents the Hill District and sits on the URA board, said the community group needs "a legal set of eyes on a document we all agree is 90 percent complete."

State Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park, a board member, voted no because he did not think the URA should pay for community groups to hire attorneys, especially from out of town.

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Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1542 or Twitter @richel First Published September 12, 2013 5:30 PM


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