Photo by Justin Criado

City of Asylum announced it will begin construction on the former Masonic building on West North Avenue in Central Northside.

By Justin Criado

Central Northside’s City of Asylum, through its affiliate COA Northside LLC, has closed on the purchase of the historic Masonic Building from the Urban Redevelopment Authority on W North Ave. The building has been vacant for nearly 20 years and a part of the Garden Theater block. Construction will begin immediately and is scheduled to take 10 months, according to a press release.

“City of Asylum is already a wonderful Northside institution and I am thrilled at this next step in their evolution. This project will be key to the continued rebirth of the Federal North corridor, which is one of the key entryways not only to the Northside but the city as a whole,” Mayor William Peduto said in the release.

Co-founder Henry Reese added: “Our goal with this project is to create a neighborhood and regional hub for readers and writers and global culture as well as a social space full of interesting people and interesting happenings.”

Renovation of the building will cost $10 million, according to the release. Once completed, the space will include eight income-generating apartments and Alphabet City, the non-profit’s new home.

“Until now, City of Asylum has had to program catch-as-catch can, under tents on streets and on vacant lots, in houses and gardens, and in community spaces. With Alphabet City, we can program year-round in a state-of-art, accessible facility,” Co-founder Diane Samuels explained. “Alphabet City is also on numerous bus lines and our programs are free to the public, which reduces barriers to entry,” she added.

Alphabet City will be a dynamically flexible space in which the organization will offer literary readings, music and writing workshops, and be open to community programmers.

“Having a home allows us to expand our programming greatly and to feature a broader range of authors and music,” Silvia Duarte, Programming Director, said.

Alphabet City will also include a bookstore, specializing in translations. In addition, Casellula Cheese and Wine Bar, a New York City-based restaurant, will open “Casellula in Alphabet City.”

“Financing for the project has been a cooperative effort of private, public, and philanthropic funds, and it has required both imagination and fortitude on the part of all to make this challenging project a reality,” Reese said.

Local foundations have made $3.7 million in grants to the project; URA through its Pittsburgh Urban Initiatives affiliate, together with PNC, contributed New Market Tax Credit allocations of $8 million; and the balance is a blend of federal and state historic tax credits, state grants, Community Infrastructure and Tourism Fund, a façade grant, a grant from the Allegheny Regional Asset District, and a loan from The Reinvestment Fund. PNC was also the investor of the New Markets and historic tax credits. Dunham reGroup has been the owner’s representative and project manager. Architects are Loysen + Kreuthmeier Architects for Alphabet City and Indovina Associates, led by Brian Kaminski a longtime Northsider, for the apartments, core and shell. Construction will be by Franjo Construction.

“City of Asylum has enriched Pittsburgh’s cultural life” Amy Merritt, PNC’s new markets tax credit relationship manager, said. “Their renovation of this iconic building allows them to expand their work in support of our cultural community while advancing the development momentum that is occurring in the Federal-North corridor.”