City of Asylum signs lease in Garden Theater Block


by Kelsey Shea
A new agreement between Garden Theater Block developers and City of Asylum will push forward two major projects on the lower Northside.

City of Asylum announced this week that its new literary venue, community center and book shop Alphabet City will be an anchor in the Garden Theater Block development.

“We think this is just great…What could be better than to be a part of the most important gateway to our neighborhood,” said Henry Reese, City of Asylum director and founder.

City of Asylum signed the lease for Masonic Hall and several ground-level buildings on West North Avenue, where they will host readings, community events and run a café and bookstore.

The agreement between the two Northside organizations effectively solves two separate problems they’ve wrestled for the past year.

In working to fill the empty storefronts of the long-dilapidated Garden Theater Block, Allegheny City Development Group, LLC, which is run through developer Zukin Realty, hit several bumps along the way.

As far back as early 2011, the Philadelphia-based developer announced that they were only months away from signing leases with businesses ranging from ice cream parlors to yoga studios.

East End Food Co-op was publicly mentioned as a possible tenant for the Masonic building in 2011 and there was a singed letter of intent from Nakama Steakhouse and Sushi Bar announced in 2012.

However Nakama and the Food Co-op both ultimately turned down the Garden Theater Block space, which stalled the renovations and left the key Masonic building empty.

Meanwhile several blocks away, Reese was working with the Central Northside community to come to an agreement on how to develop a new literary venue on a triple lot on Monterey Street between Sampsonia Way and Jacksonia Street.

Though the project was almost fully funded and initially approved by the zoning board, several neighbors concerned about noise and parking protested the use of the space and shot down the option of the Monterey Street location in zoning court.

Reese said that even though the location on West North Avenue will be less “cozy” than Monterey Street, he believes this worked out to be the better option with more visibility and less spatial constraints.

Reese said he has “dreams but no solid plans” for the Monterey lot, which is still owned by City of Asylum.

Allegheny City Central Association, the newly named Central Northside Neighborhood Council, supports the project and its latest developments.

“We’ve been very careful with our planning and tenant selection,” said ACCA President Barbara Talerico in a press release. “Now, with our anchor tenants secured, neighbors will begin to see construction crews on the Garden Theater site by late spring of 2013 with an anticipated completion of early 2014.”

City of Asylum will join a restaurant being opened by Piccolo Forno owners called Il Giardino.

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