Garden Theater Block updates


Above: The vacant Garden Theater Block (Photo/Kelsey Shea).

Two new plans are in the works for redevelopment of the Garden Theater Block this month.

Garden Theater Block owners, The Urban Redevelopment Authority, and developers, Zukin Realty, are considering a revised development plan for the block and are also applying to have the block included in the Mexican War Streets Historical District.

The amended proposal for the Garden Theater Block calls for a multi-phase redevelopment of the block, rather than developing the vacant buildings all at once.

In May, the board of directors of the URA accepted a disposition proposal from Allegheny City Development Group, LLC, which is run by Philadelphia-based developer Zukin, that proposed the plan adjustments.

“Given the difficult current economic environment, the URA is open to an amended proposal for a phased redevelopment of the so-called Garden Theater Block, whereby several of the buildings could be placed into service by the end of 2012,” said Rob Stephany, executive director of the URA.

“We’re still exploring [the multi-phase plan], but the advantage is that it would allow us to get started on part of project before the rest is finished,” Zukin Realty President Wayne Zukin said.

Zukin said that they plan to start construction on some of the Federal Street properties next month. 

The original single-phase plan was a factor in hiring Zukin for the project, said Northside Leadership Conference Executive Director Mark Fatla.

In addition to the newly proposed plan, Zukin Realty has also applied to have the Mexican War Streets historic district expanded to include The Garden Theater Block.

The Garden Theater Block developers applied to the National Parks service to include the West North Avenue block in the historic district. The expansion of the district would make a significant tax credit available to Zukin.

Zukin’s registration form states, “As the buildings overwhelmingly had the same use from the time that they were designed to the time that they were vacated, the overall defining forms and architectural characteristics remain intact through the boundary increase.”

If Zukin receives the nomination for historical status, it will requires specific materials be used and the character of the interior and exterior of the building to be preserved during the renovation. However, if a building is included in the War Streets’ historic district, the developer can take advantage of a 20 percent federal historic tax credit.

Sarah Quinn, the preservation planner with the City of Pittsburgh’s Historic Review Commission, said that applying for historical status is a fairly common practice in the city of Pittsburgh, because many of the buildings are older and the tax credit is beneficial.

“A national historic nomination is only as good as the person who writes it,” said Quinn, who noted that companies like Zukin hire consultants with a lot of experience to write the nominations.

Logan Ferguson, the senior associate at Powers & Company who prepared Zukin’s application, said that the process of applying for the nomination from start to finish can take up to a year.

The Mexican War Streets Historic District boundary increase registration form was prepared by the Philadelphia-based consulting firm, Powers & Company Inc. in June.

The registration form can currently be found on the City’s historic review website and is open to public comment until the end of this week.

Zukin has already filed the registration form, which is in a 60 review period. It will go to a national board for approval on October 4.

If approved, Zukin must then apply for the tax credit, which Quinn said is an entirely separate process. 

Zukin said they cannot file for the tax credit until they have specific building and renovation plans for the tenants. He was unable to say how many tenants he has secured.

Vice President of The Mexican War Streets Society, Dave McMunn said that when the society initially planned the historic expansion in 1972, it included the Garden Theater Block. At the time, McMunn said the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, which makes the determination on the behalf of the National Park Service, excluded this block because it was disconnected from the rest of the district.  

“I am happy that the issue is being revisited.  Truly, the Northside is one entire historic district and should be treated as such, with all the protections and sensitivities in developing historic property(ies),” said McMunn.




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