Cold fish: New residences could spawn on an unlikely spot

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You've got to admire the adventurous spirit and creativity it's going to take to turn a concrete, windowless facility used to store frozen fish into luxury apartments.

Monroeville developer Sampson Morris Group and Lawrenceville architect Desmone & Associates apparently have both in abundance. On Tuesday, they explained to the city planning commission how they plan to transform the seven-story New Federal Cold Storage building into a 144-unit apartment complex.

It won't be easy.

The most recognizable feature of the building at Penn Avenue and Smallman and 15th streets in the Strip District is a string of lights in the shape of a fish, a signal that the structure most recently was used for storage by the Robert Wholey & Co. fish retailer and wholesaler. Sampson Morris bought the building for $2 million five years ago. After much contemplation, the firm decided to create a building with at least 100 two-bedroom apartments, two levels of indoor parking for cars and bicycles and an annex with a pool, lawn and fitness center.

The plan is just the latest project that aims to take advantage of the strong bones of an older building and reconstitute it for modern purposes. A tour through various Pittsburgh neighborhoods reveals that the same thing has happened to a former department store, a brewery, a factory, a state office building and other structures.

In the case of the latest project, cutting through the 12-inch-thick concrete exterior and a 16-inch-thick inner wall will pose interesting challenges. The lighted fish will have to go but, on the bright side, that fishy smell will be gone, too.

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