Forbes Avenue high-rise in the works
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The same firm that redeveloped a former department store and an old five-and-dime Downtown now has its sights set on a rundown section of Forbes Avenue.
Millcraft Industries is proposing to build a $50 million to $60 million high-rise on the south side of Forbes that would house a hotel, office space, parking and 25,000 square feet of retail in the block between Wood Street and Market Square.
The Washington County developer previously had pitched a plan to build as many as 250 apartment units in the block, but has dropped that idea in favor of a mixed-use office and hotel development.
"We're finding that there's a fairly strong need for additional office space Downtown," said Lucas Piatt, Millcraft's chief operating officer.
In furthering the plan, the city Urban Redevelopment Authority is expected to vote Thursday on a proposal to extend the exclusive negotiating period with Millcraft to Dec. 31 on seven URA-owned parcels that would be used for the development.
Millcraft has held options on the properties for some time but has yet to move on them, mainly because its focus has been on the redevelopment of the former Lazarus-Macy's store at Wood and Fifth Avenue and the old G.C. Murphy store on Fifth.
Mr. Piatt said the developer is ready to get going on the Forbes development, noting it was part of a trio of projects Millcraft had pitched to the city five years ago.
"This one has been in the pipeline for a while now and we're moving forward on it," he said.
The Forbes parcels include buildings that now house the George Aiken restaurant, a Downtown fixture for more than four decades, a variety store and a record store. A parking lot and a vacant piece of land are also part of the assemblage.
Millcraft hopes to begin construction of the 15-story high-rise by the start of 2012 and plans to have it finished by the middle of 2013.
Mr. Piatt said the developer is working with a "major flag" on the limited service hotel with approximately 175 rooms. He said it would be similar in style to a Hilton Garden Inn or a Courtyard by Marriott.
Despite a slew of plans for hotels in and around Downtown over the past few years, Mr. Piatt believes there's room for at least one more.
"We feel there's definitely still a strong market, an increasing market, in the city for a limited service hotel," he said.
Mr. Piatt said Millcraft has been talking to potential office tenants, including one that would be new to the city, and hopes to have deals in place before construction begins.
Millcraft also is considering a "destination" restaurant or some type of entertainment venue and shops to fill the 25,000 square feet of street-level retail space, he said.
The parking would be integrated into the high-rise and probably would be wedged between the ground-level retail space and the start of the hotel or office space. The high-rise itself would be LEED-certified.
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said he believes the overall plan fits nicely with the redevelopment of the Lazarus-Macy's building, which now houses expensive condos, offices, restaurants and retail space, and the Murphy store, which features apartments, restaurants and retail space and is home to the Downtown YMCA.
"We really think this symbolizes the continued interest in Downtown," he said.
He said he is pleased with the work Millcraft has done to date.
"We do business with them because they do good projects and they fulfill what our vision of Downtown is. As long as that continues, we look forward to working with them," he said.
The Forbes project, Mr. Piatt said, likely would total close to $60 million. Millcraft has yet to determine how the project will be funded. Both the Piatt Place (Lazarus) and Market Square Place (Murphy) projects involved a mix of public and private funding. The total cost of those developments reached more than $100 million.
Mr. Ravenstahl said Millcraft hasn't approached him about help in financing the Forbes project. He added he would not be surprised if the URA provided grants or loans in support of the initiative. Such investments, he argued, are worth it.
"The tax dollars generated over the course of time far outweigh any investment the URA makes," he said.
The URA paid nearly $5.3 million for the seven properties that form the footprint for the Forbes development. Millcraft likely will have to purchase those properties, at a price to be negotiated.
Millcraft also is preparing to undertake the redevelopment of the former State Office Building on Liberty Avenue into 218 apartments.
Mr. Piatt said the developer hopes to break ground on that project in the spring and have the first units ready to occupy by early 2012.
First Published February 9, 2011 12:00 am