Allegheny County sells its Oakland health building

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A long-delayed project to build a 168-room hotel and an adjacent office complex at the Allegheny County Health Department building in Oakland is finally moving ahead.

The county signed a $4.9 million sales agreement last week for 3333 Forbes Ave., across from Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC, said Dennis Davin, the county's economic development director.

The development team is Langholz Wilson Ellis real estate, builder Massaro Properties and architect Tasso Katselas.

Gary Wilson, a principal with the development firm, said the deal is scheduled to close by the end of the year, when the county workers must be in another location. The plan calls for a nine-story hotel that fronts on Fifth Avenue and either renovation of the existing building into 65,000 square feet of office space or new construction of 95,000 square feet of office space that fronts on Forbes.

"We're open to both," Mr. Wilson said. "We'd love to go with new construction, but we'll see what the market allows us to do."

Plans also call for a parking garage between the two buildings with three stories above ground and the rest under the hotel.

The developers purchased an adjacent property at 3337 Forbes Ave. last year for $385,000 that will be used to provide better access to the garage from Forbes.

The project dates to 2008, when the county asked for proposals for the site. County council approved the sale to the development team in November 2009, but the project lagged with the national economic decline and the change in county executive last year from Dan Onorato to Rich Fitzgerald.

"I've been getting calls about this for the last three or four years with people wanting to know what is happening with this project," Mr. Davin said. "We feel great about it -- putting this property back on the tax rolls."

Mr. Wilson declined to identify the hotel operator the team is talking with or potential office building tenants.

"We do have tenants lined up, but we don't have them signed up yet," he said.

A new office building would have six or seven stories, while a renovation of the existing building would have four stories.

Between now and the end of the year, the developer will present formal plans to the city for approval.

Once the project is approved, Mr. Wilson said it would take about nine months for renovation or 18 months for new construction.

The partnership previously redeveloped a terminal building on Second Avenue into Shannon Hall, a residential building for 650 students attending the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.

The sales agreement leaves the county looking for a place to move about 40 health workers.

One possibility could be the old county morgue on Ross Street, Downtown.

County council today is to consider Mr. Fitzgerald's request to transfer $3.3 million from proposed improvements at the health department site to the morgue for renovations there, but that work is expected to take at least a year.

"We're working on that now," said Amie Downs, spokeswoman for Mr. Fitzgerald.

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Ed Blazina: eblazina@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1470.


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