URA marks milestone in facade program

Pittsburgh Post GazetteFriday, June 08, 2007
By Diana Nelson Jones,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority celebrated a milestone in commercial facade renovation yesterday on Broad Street in East Liberty, one of 32 neighborhoods that has benefited from the authority’s Streetface loan-to-grant program.

Ed Lesoon’s three-story yellow-brick building at 6022-24 is the 1,200th facade to have been spruced up with help from the URA, according to records that date to 1983. But his own investment in the neighborhood goes back to the 1970s and has figured in the millions.

Broad Street, between Highland and Sheridan avenues, is heavily traveled, with diagonal head-in parking on one side and a cropped curb on the other. Its facades are largely stale, but that is changing.

Yesterday, a day after Washington, D.C. developer Nigel Parkinson announced plans for a $40 million renovation and a construction complex involving half of that block, the URA saluted the investment Mr. Lesoon has made on much of the other half.

The property that drew about 50 people yesterday — including Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and state Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park — once was a furniture store. It was caving in and needed a new parapet wall when Mr. Lesoon bought it in 2000. Besides having sustained fire damage, the building was bricked up except for two little windows in front.

After a complete gutting, it is massive and airy. Each 5,000-square-foot floor has a large bank of windows and elevator access. The interior reconstruction created tie-ins to both upstairs floors of the building beside it, which fronts on Sheridan Avenue and houses a Family Dollar store.

Mr. Lesoon said he wants to rent the first floor of the old furniture store as restaurant or retail space and the upstairs as offices.

Working with architect Cherie Moshier, he and his crews have converted four of seven properties on the block.

They gutted the former Veterans of Foreign Wars club at 6020 Broad and added a partial second-floor overlook that suggests a bistro or club.

Next door is the former Walsh’s Lounge & Bar, which Mr. Lesoon bought last year.

“We removed 500 gallons of grease and dirt out of there,” he said yesterday, adding that he plans to remove the glass-block front and open up the facade.

All told, Mr. Lesoon has restored and renovated 20 of 23 buildings in East Liberty with $208,825 in Streetface grants, said URA spokesman Julie Deseyn.

The facade money, even when it’s a relatively small portion of some of his facade costs, “is such a good incentive that I have been doing this for 20 years,” Mr. Lesoon said. “But I get hooked on buildings. I think of them as my Eliza Doolittles.”

Building owners in qualifying commercial corridors can get 40 percent of the project cost, up to $30,000, said Anita Stec, business development specialist at the URA. The money starts as a loan, but for each of five years that the property is maintained as approved, the URA converts 20 percent of the loan to a grant, she said.

In 25 years, the URA’s $13 million investment in facades has leveraged an additional $50 million in investments by private interests, said Jerome Dettore, executive director of the URA.

Mr. Lesoon said he and his father were inspired by Ward Olander and his company, Real Estate Enterprises, which has been investing in East Liberty properties since 1970. Today, Mr. Lesoon and his son develop properties as the Wedgwood Group.

(Diana Nelson Jones can be reached at djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. )

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Old glass made new again-Greensburg man restoring stained glass ceiling

Pittsburgh Post GazetteThursday, June 07, 2007
By Karamagi Rujumba,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Terry Bengel has always been fascinated by light. As a young boy, he often wandered the train tracks of his native Greensburg, picking up glittering shards of glass.

The way light filtered through glass enchanted him enough to pursue a career designing, building and restoring stained glass panels.

Mr. Bengel, 57, who over 38 years has fitted stained glass windows in churches and schools all over Western Pennsylvania, is restoring the stained glass panel ceiling that once covered the atrium ceiling of the Fayette County courthouse in Uniontown.

But unlike many of the projects he has worked on since he opened the Greensburg-based Terry Bengel Stained Glass Studio in 1976, he is restoring a stained glass frame without any reference to what the arrangement once looked like.

That is because the stained glass panel ceiling, which was designed and installed in the 1890s, was taken down and put in storage in 1914.

Since then, the 20 panels, three of which were damaged in storage, were not touched and were considered useless until Fayette County officials approached Mr. Bengel last year, hoping he could restore them.

Mr. Bengel, who said that the stained glass panels were removed from the courthouse ceiling because of a leak in the building’s skylight, represented the Beaux Arts style of the 1890s when they were installed.

“It’s what we call a carpet window because it resembles the layout of an oriental rug,” he said.

“When I first took a look at the panels, they were completely covered in coal soot,” Mr. Bengel recalled. ” I couldn’t even see their color or patterns.”

And so his first step was to clean the panels thoroughly and photograph them. Then he used a computer program to re-create an image of what the original ceiling might have looked like.

To rebuild the three destroyed panels, Mr. Bengel traced all the windows that were intact to extract the design of the windows that had to be reproduced.

“I was able to trace the good stuff to a full-sized drawing that I could reverse their mirror image and then re-create the images of the destroyed pieces,” he said.

But re-creating the design wasn’t as hard as re-creating some of the original paint and color schemes.

“Those enamel colors are very hard to re-create because they are a powder form that has to be ground thoroughly and then mixed with water, which evaporates,” he said. “The whole thing is very time consuming.”

Mr. Bengel expects to have the reconstruction project completed next week.

“The installation is very simple,” he said. “The panels will simply be fit into place in the atrium.”

(Karamagi Rujumba can be reached at krujumba@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1719 )

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East Liberty’s Broad Street getting face-lift

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Jeremy Boren
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Friday, June 8, 2007

East Liberty’s Broad Street once was little more than a drug-trafficking depot sandwiched between two nuisance bars and a few tumble-down buildings, city officials said Thursday.
But that’s changing with new attention from police, Pittsburgh’s Urban Redevelopment Authority and developers such as Edward Lesoon of The Wedgwood Group, which is renovating five Broad Street buildings in hopes of attracting retailers and restaurateurs.

“What we have done is taken the seed, or the core of East Liberty, and we’re going to make it blossom,” said Lesoon, as he stood yesterday in the partially renovated, three-story Hart Building.

He hopes the building will attract a company that wants to put in office space or a store once he completes more than $250,000 in improvements to the facade and interior, including a new elevator.

The key is to beautify Broad Street with building renovations and more than $300,000 in public and private money for street resurfacing and sidewalk amenities such as decorative lamp posts, lights and trees, city officials said.

“It’s so someone doing a curb check won’t be scared away,” said Robert Rubenstein, URA economic development director. “There’s a lot of (potential) business owners who don’t know about this yet.”

Lesoon hopes a second building he’s renovating — which once held Walsh’s Bar, a nuisance bar with an art-deco theme — will turn into a family restaurant.

Pittsburgh real estate marketer CB Richard Ellis is looking for businesses to move into buildings in a three-block section of Broad Street renovated by Wedgwood and other companies.

State Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Lawrenceville, was on hand yesterday with Mayor Luke Ravenstahl to dedicate the URA’s facade-improvement program. He applauded the street’s building owners for agreeing to contribute money to fixing the crumbling street and sidewalks.

Finding people to patronize a new restaurant or clothing store in East Liberty’s core likely won’t be difficult, said Rob Stephany, East Liberty Development Inc.’s director of commercial development.

Stephany said there will be many new residents living nearby soon in two large mixed-income housing developments planned for either side of the improved section of Broad Street, which is between North Sheridan Avenue and North Beatty Street.

Developer McCormick Barrons is working on leasing 120 homes in what will be a 200-home residential development; and ELDI will begin construction next year on Mellon’s Orchard South, an 80-home mixed-income development.

“Broad Street is going to be more defined by the people who can walk it,” Stephany said.

People will want to shop there now that crime is under control and new development is coming, he said.

“It was for a long time completely miserable,” Stephany said. “It’s a totally different place.”

Jeremy Boren can be reached at jboren@tribweb.com or (412) 765-2312.

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Leaks from soot removal damaging Pitt’s Cathedral of Learning

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Bill Zlatos
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Friday, June 8, 2007

The Cathedral of Learning is springing leaks.
The $4.8 million scrubbing and restoration of the 42-story landmark at the University of Pittsburgh has caused leaks throughout the building — including in two nationality rooms.

“It’s a wonderful project, and the building is looking great, but it’s causing a lot of chaos inside with the water damage and sand blowing through the windows and the noise level,” said Chris Metil, associate director of the Summer Language Institute and an administrative assistant in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures.

Six or seven wastebaskets caught water dripping from the ceiling during an orientation held by the institute on Monday.

“On a lot of different floors, water from the sandblasting is seeping through windows, and it’s coming in through cracks in the mortar,” Metil said. “Some departments have had water dumping in.”
A teaching assistant in the German Department had his books and papers destroyed when water drenched his desk on the 14th floor, she said.

“Downstairs, there was water coming into the Czechoslovak Room,” said E. Maxine Bruhns, director of the Nationality Rooms Program. “We caught it in time. No enormous damage done.”

Bruhns was in the Middle East when the accident happened, but said the leak was discovered before it permanently damaged a mural in the Czechoslovak Room.

There was also some water around the Tudor rose corbel — an architectural projection — in the English Room.

“I go day by day and hope for the best,” Bruhns said.

University spokesman John Fedele said there have been minor leaks, but there has been no significant damage. The solution, he said: Using absorbent tube-like devices called socks to suck up the water.

“It’s like throwing a towel down,” he said, “but they’re more absorbent than towels.”

The removal of 70 years of soot is being done by blasting the building with recycled glass powder mixed with water. The Cost Co. in Forest Hills has been working on the project since March.

The company expects to finish by Sept. 28.

Bill Zlatos can be reached at bzlatos@tribweb.com or (412) 320-7828.

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Mon Valley needs newcomers to revitalize, officials say

Pittsburgh Post GazetteThursday, June 07, 2007
By Karamagi Rujumba,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The consensus among Allegheny County and state officials and economic-development types is that if many of the old steel mill towns of the Mon Valley are to make a comeback, the valley not only needs key revitalization dollars, but people like John Potter.

The Valley, they say, needs longtime residents or even newcomers who are willing to buy new and refurbished homes in downtrodden neighborhoods of communities like North Braddock and Braddock.

On a balmy afternoon last Thursday, Mr. Potter, 74, a longtime North Braddock resident, stood under a shade tree as state and county officials lauded him for buying a new house in the municipality.

Mr. Potter, a retired Ford Corp., supervisor, is the first buyer of one of six single-family detached homes being built along North Braddock’s Baldridge Avenue, and financed by a collaboration of state, county, and regional nonprofit agencies.

The six new houses comprise the new development known as the Braddock Field Housing Development in North Braddock.

“Isn’t it great talking over construction noise? I love it. It’s much better than talking over silence,” Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato told a group of residents and officials who gathered at the construction site during a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“This is what it means to build new. We want to have an impact. We’re not talking about building just one house. We want to build entire blocks of new housing,” Mr. Onorato told the group of about 30 residents and officials.

The new housing project in North Braddock together with the East Braddock Housing Development in Braddock is the latest revitalization initiative by a consortium of public and nonprofit agencies.

The project, officials said, represents an investment of more than $10 million in high-quality affordable housing for more than 50 families in the area.

The consortium consists of a number of Allegheny County and Pennsylvania state departments, the Mon Valley Initiative, and the Braddock Economic Development Corp.

“Braddock’s Field will spur the revitalization of the neighborhood surrounding Library Street and Jones Avenue. Our goal is to help revive these once prosperous communities through affordable home ownership, elimination of blight, and an increased tax base,” said Laura Zinski, executive director of the Mon Valley Initiative.

The houses in North Braddock are being sold for $70,000, of which $15,000 will be a “soft,” or subsidized, second mortgage, held by Allegheny County, explained Doug Van Haitsma, real estate development director of the Mon Valley Initiative.

In Braddock, the group of officials, which included Brian Hudson, executive director of the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, and Pennsylvania Treasurer, Robin Wiessmann, launched the renovation of two historic buildings on Corey Avenue, which will make available 17 new apartments.

The Corey Avenue project will also see the demolition of four dilapidated buildings that will make room for the construction of two duplexes and a single family home.

The houses in Braddock will be sold for $52,000, with the same financing scheme as those in North Braddock, Mr. Van Haitsma said.

“Dan Onorato has not forgotten the Mon Valley and we are so appreciative of that,” said Jesse Brown, president of the Braddock’s council.

“We were waiting for many years to see some things happen here and now we see [the houses] coming,” Mr. Brown said.

(Karamagi Rujumba can be reached at krujumba@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1719 . )

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Firm unveils plans for $40 million E. Liberty restoration, development

Pittsburgh Post GazetteThursday, June 07, 2007
By Diana Nelson Jones,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A Washington, D.C., firm presented plans yesterday for The Montrose Exchange, a $40 million hotel, office and retail development in the heart of East Liberty, at a meeting with the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

Six buildings would be restored and one built on the site of nine existing buildings, said architect Andrew Moss. Montrose Exchange refers to the name of East Liberty’s former telephone exchange.

The Morgan Development Group began securing land four years ago. It has a franchise agreement with the Hotel Indigo, a member of the Intercontinental Group, for a 135-room boutique hotel. It would consist of four buildings in the block bounded by Highland Avenue and Broad, Kirkwood and Whitfield streets, said Nigel Parkinson, the firm’s principal.

The now-dilapidated six-story Kirkwood Hotel would be restored as the historic reference and the tallest building of the multistory hotel, said Mr. Moss. The hotel components would be connected and a new public plaza created in the block.

A large, modern office building beside the Kirkwood Hotel would be completely redesigned and reconfigured. Two buildings across Highland and one across Broad from the hotel would become two stories of retail and office space.

The plan includes restoration of the former American Legion building, the proposed location of a sister restaurant of Latin Concepts in Washington, D.C., said Mr. Parkinson.

He said Pittsburgh’s character and “great institutions” beckoned him to invest here.

“Last year, I was at a class reunion, and one of my professors was from Carnegie Mellon,” he said. “When I told him about my project, his wife’s eyebrows shot up and she said, ‘I’m from Shadyside!’ ”

Jerome Dettore, executive director of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, said the plan “is very, very solid, very impressive.”

“These guys have put their money where their mouth is. They have assembled the property, they have agreements in place and are ready to move,” he said.

From the URA, the developer is requesting gap-financing assistance, grants for facade restoration and help with public rights of way, infrastructure and parking areas.

“When there’s simply financing in the way, that’s the best role we can play,” said Mr. Dettore, whose staff often has to assemble sites for developers. “The chances of this [project] happening are extremely good.”

Mr. Moss said local businesses would have opportunities to locate in the retail spaces, which include seven in one building, three in another and an undetermined number in an additional 6,900 square feet.

Besides offices, a ballroom, meeting space or a nightclub are possibilities for a portion of the second floors, said Mr. Moss.

Part of the plan is to redesign an open space on Broad Street as a public green space “with a kiosk, a cafe with outdoor tables and an area for small events,” he said.

A Marriott Spring Hill Suites being planned two blocks up Highland made the agreement easier for the Hotel Indigo, said Mr. Moss. “They didn’t want to be the only one. There’s a lack of hotels” in the East End neighborhoods compared with demand, mainly because of nearby medical facilities.

Mr. Moss said the plan was to restore the hotel for certification by the U.S. Green Building Council.

(Diana Nelson Jones can be reached at djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. )

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Homewood pride comes before bricks and mortar

Pittsburgh Post GazetteWednesday, June 06, 2007
By Elwin Green,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The redevelopment of Homewood will be more a matter of community pride than of bricks and mortar, the keynote speaker at a workshop on commercial development said yesterday.

“We’ve got to lift the community up and highlight the positive things,” said Clarence F. Curry Jr., Minority/Woman Owned Business Enterprises coordinator for the Sports and Exhibition Authority. “We’ve got to toot our own horn.”

Mr. Curry said the community’s redevelopment should build on “magnets,” such as the library, the Alma Illery Health Center and the neighborhood campus of the Community College of Allegheny County, which already attract visitors to the neighborhood.

“They come here to the library, they leave with their money in their pocket.” he said. “We need something to encourage them to stop and spend their money.”

Mr. Curry was one of four speakers at the workshop sponsored by the Homewood Brushton Community Coalition Organization, held at the Homewood branch of Carnegie Library. HBCCO has a community plan for development and is looking for an executive director, but has no land bought and no finances finalized.

Robert Rubinstein, director of economic development at the Urban Redevelopment Authority, offered a glimpse into the information-gathering process that major retailers use when deciding where to locate. Based on data about the area within a half-mile radius of one of the neighborhood’s busiest intersections, at Frankstown and Homewood avenues, he said residents could be expected to spend $9 million on groceries in 2008. Since the average grocery store needs $20 million in annual sales to be feasible, that makes the neighborhood an unlikely target for such a store.

However, he said, Homewood could be a good place to develop “convenience retail” stores such as the Family Dollar slated to open this summer on Frankstown Avenue. It also could offer opportunities for developing light industrial space for manufacturing such goods as T-shirts or compact discs, or for use as artist studios or galleries.

Countering the perception that the URA funds only large-scale developments, Mr. Rubinstein said 90 percent of what the organization finances is “small neighborhood projects.”

J. Arthur Gilmer, project manager for FaithWorks, a Homewood-based nonprofit organization that offers training and consulting to other nonprofits, said the glimpse of a developer’s perspective on the neighborhood was valuable. “We see it one way, walking around the community, and other people see it differently.”

(Elwin Green can be reached at egreen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1969.)

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City approves tax break for new housing in 29 areas

Pittsburgh Post GazetteWednesday, June 06, 2007
By Mark Belko,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

City Council approved tax breaks yesterday designed to spur new housing Downtown even as it expressed misgivings about excluding some neighborhoods from the program.

The measure, approved 8-0, will waive the first $2,700 in city property taxes for 10 years on new housing units built Downtown and in 28 other city neighborhoods.

“It’s symbolic of our effort to prioritize and give incentives for people to move back Downtown and to create incentives for people to move back into neighborhoods that haven’t seen investment for some time,” Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said.

Approval came even though several council members complained about neighborhoods being excluded from the program, which based eligibility in part on a “vitality index” that factored in population losses, education levels, single-parent families, poverty, low home ownership, high vacancy, tax delinquency, violent crime and other factors.

In fact, several Fairywood residents made a last-ditch appeal to council to be added among the eligible neighborhoods, but their pleas fell on deaf ears.

“We never get anything in our neighborhood. We’re always left out, except for things that don’t work,” Donna Washington, a member of the Fairywood Citizens Council, said afterwards.

Councilman William Peduto, who had proposed a competing tax break that would have applied to Downtown and adjacent neighborhoods, said the residents had a point.

“When you choose 29 neighborhoods to be the winner, you’re also choosing 60 neighborhoods to be the loser,” he said.

Several other council members, including Daniel Deasy, who represents Fairywood, also expressed disappointment about neighborhoods being left out but at the same time expressed hope that the program could be expanded in the future.

The Ravenstahl administration has said that going citywide would have cost the city $75 million over the life of the program. As structured, the abatement is designed to replace the new property tax revenue the city is giving up with gains in wage and other taxes.

Mr. Peduto said one possible avenue to explore in years ahead would be income-based property tax breaks as well as incentives built around green buildings, historic preservation and public art.

While the program isn’t perfect, it does lend assistance to efforts to bring more housing Downtown, he said.

Lucas Piatt, vice president of real estate for Millcraft Industries, the Washington County developer bringing condominiums to the former Lazarus-Macy’s building and apartments to the old G.C. Murphy’s store Downtown, described the abatements as a “good start.”

“I think it’s definitely going to help us,” he said.

He said he was also hoping that Allegheny County and the city school district would adopt similar measures. He said abatements in Philadelphia have helped to revitalize that city.

Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato expects to have an announcement soon relating to a possible county tax abatement program, spokesman Kevin Evanto said. For the initiative to be successful, Mr. Onorato believes the city, county and school district all must participate, he said.

While Fairywood residents complained about being left out, representatives from several other neighborhood groups spoke in favor of the program before the vote.

Cindy Cassell, who heads up economic development and project management for Neighbors in the Strip, said the program could help to stimulate the redevelopment of about 100 vacant properties in the Strip District.

“It makes urban living in Pittsburgh more affordable for more people,” she said.

The city is still writing regulations for the program, a process that could take at least a month. Abatement applications will be accepted for five years.

(Rich Lord contributed to this story. Mark Belko can be reached at mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262. )

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Iron City’s new owners predict full-bodied future

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Joe Napsha
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Wednesday, June 6, 2007

The new owners of Pittsburgh Brewing Co. believe the brewery is well-positioned for growth under a bankruptcy reorganization plan approved Tuesday, and a beer industry expert agrees.
The ownership group, led by Connecticut investment manager John N. Milne, plans to take over the Lawrenceville brewery on July 7 and operate it under the name Iron City Brewing Co., which was the name of the brewery when it was formed in 1861.

“Today marks a positive first step for Iron City Brewing Co.,” said Timothy Hickman, who will become the brewery’s president, in a statement yesterday.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge M. Bruce McCullough approved the reorganization plan, which will enable the beermaker to emerge from bankruptcy for the first time since Dec. 7, 2005.

“Pittsburgh Brewing was in bankruptcy for two main reasons — a weak balance sheet and an excessive cost structure. The reorganization plan addresses those issues and positions it well for future growth,” Hickman said.
A beer industry expert believes that with the right business plan, the new ownership can succeed.

“They are just sitting on a gold mine,” because Pittsburgh Brewing’s brand equities “are just phenomenal,” said Daniel Bradford, publisher of All About Beer magazine in Durham, N.C.

Even so, though the new owners pledge to spend $4.1 million on a new kegging line and a new gas-fired boiler, and $500,000 on marketing the brands, having money to spend is not a guarantee of success, Bradford said.

“It is not just a question of (spending) money. You have to be strategic, and you have to execute well,” Bradford said.

Bradford believes the news ownership can “tap into some really strong trends right now.” One of those is what he calls the “retro trend,” the popularity of older beer brands like Iron City and IC Light, among adults in their 20s.

The new ownership group has an opportunity to create a specialty beer segment, a whole new brand they can roll out within the existing market, and add value to the business, Bradford said. Brewers such as High Falls Brewing Co. of Rochester, N.Y., which brews the Genesee family of beers, along with the Matt Brewing Co. of Utica, N.Y., and City Brewing Co. of La Crosse, Wisc., which bought the former Latrobe Brewing Co. plant, are among such success stories.

“It’s not just an extension of Iron City. It is thinking more along lines that reflect the indigenous culture of Western Pennsylvania,” Bradford said.

The new ownership group will take over the brewery from Joseph R. Piccirilli, who bought the business out bankruptcy in 1995. Milne’s group convinced creditors to accept a repayment plan that offers creditors no more than $5.03 million on claims totalling more than $26 million. There was a near-unanimous approval of the reorganization plan, brewery attorney Robert O. Lampl told the judge.

“I did not think we would be here today,” McCullough said as he approved the reorganization plan during a 15-minute hearing. However, he added a cautionary note, saying, “I don’t know how long it will last.”

The developments yesterday “give us optimism,” said George Sharkey, president of the negotiating board for the bottlers and brewers, members of the International Union of Electrical Workers-Communication Workers of America Locals 144b and 22b. “We’re hoping for great things. We hope the people of Pittsburgh buy the beer and support the business.”

Milne’s group projects that it can boost sales from $30.5 million in its first full year of operation to $37.4 million after three years.

The group will be able to take advantage of a 15 percent reduction in union workers’ wages and benefits under a contract that takes effect when new ownership is in place. Retirement costs were cut by terminating the union-sponsored pension plan, and medical insurance costs for employees were reduced by 20 percent.

Joe Napsha can be reached at jnapsha@tribweb.com or (412)-320-7993.

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Jazzing Up Housing for Seniors – Officials are increasingly inviting architectural innovation in housing projects for the elderly

June 5, 2006
by Violet Law
Businessweek.com

For far too long, most publicly funded housing for seniors and the disabled has bordered on being dull, if not downright dismal and “institutional.” But thanks to architects who are lavishing the kind of thoughtful design attention hitherto rarely seen in such developments, and clients who are increasingly willing to take a chance on them, even some publicly funded projects are breaking the mold.

Victor Regnier, FAIA, a University of Southern California professor who specializes in seniors housing design, is currently writing a book on the subject—timely, given the growing demand for these buildings as baby boomers age. Regnier sees a dawning willingness on the part of housing officials to invite innovative design. More important, there’s a new political will to demand it.

One project resulting from this push is Near North Apartments, a single-room occupancy building designed by Helmut Jahn of Murphy/Jahn Architects. Mercy Housing Lakefront commissioned the new $14-million, 96-unit facility to provide permanent residences for low-income or formerly homeless people, some of whom are elderly and disabled. Completed this spring, it stands on the site of Cabrini-Green, an infamous Chicago housing project now mostly demolished. The five-story building is clad in rippled, satin-finish stainless-steel siding. This unpolished facade is tempered by round edges near the rooftop and large, punched windows whose e-coated glazing reflects a faint blue tint. Its elegant, Minimalist design stands out, especially in its infill setting—which is exactly what Cindy Holler, the nonprofit’s president, wanted. “It’s stigma-smashing,” she says. “It’s okay not to be blend in and to be provocative.”

Other new developments are aiming for a more subtle approach, evocative rather than provocative. A 108-unit public housing development for the elderly in Pittsburgh by McCormack Baron Salazar incorporates the history of an African-American neighborhood into its facade design. Architect Dan Rothschild, AIA, of Pittsburgh-based Rothschild Doyno Architects, says he was inspired by the storied Hill District, a popular stop for jazz musicians during the 1920s to 1940s. He incorporated the spirit of jazz into the building’s plan by dividing the front elevation into segments whose widths vary to the relative length of musical notes—a quarter note, half note, or whole note—adding visual rhythm to the streetscape. Construction of the $13 million complex finishes next month.

Regnier observes that more and more projects like this one are employing better design to serve the population they house. “There has been a stronger focus on developing contextually-based designs that gear toward the community and reflect what the city is about,” he explains.

Consideration of context can be achieved not only with exterior details, but also through the architectural program. Regnier cites the Burbank Senior Artists Colony, a complex of 141 senior apartments located near major movie studios in Burbank, California, developed by Meta Housing with some government support. Scheurer Architects designed two recording studios as well as a small theater so that the facility’s residents can flex their creative muscles by producing plays and films.

Provided by Architectural Record—The Resource for Architecture and Architects

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City Council approves tax abatements

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Jeremy Boren
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Tax breaks designed to attract home builders to Downtown and 28 neighborhoods won City Council’s OK today but excluded some low-income neighborhoods, residents complained.

“It seems to me that the city is trying to upscale the city, and there’s no room for lower income people,” said Donna Washington, 51, a Fairywood resident who told council that her neighborhood should be eligible for the tax breaks.

“We are always left out,” said Washington, a member of the Fairywood Citizens Council. “There are a lot of people who would like to do work on their homes … and they can’t afford (the higher taxes).”

Beginning July 1, those who build new housing — or significantly improve existing residential property in the designated neighborhoods — would be exempt from the city’s 10.8-mill property tax for 10 years.

The tax break applies to the increase in value of new developments capped at $250,000. For example, the owner of a new apartment building worth $250,000 would not have to pay $2,700 a year in property taxes, creating $27,000 in savings over the decade.

The City Planning Department created a “vitality index” to determine which neighborhoods would be eligible for the program. The department assigned scores to neighborhoods based on data such as housing vacancy, violent crime, income, education levels and population decreases.

The bill, proposed by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, passed 8-0 today. Councilman Len Bodack was absent.

Nancy Noszka, director of real estate with the Northside Leadership Conference, likes the tax break program and said if it entices home builders to come to the city “the program will help stabilize our communities.”

Cindy Cassell, project manager for the Neighbors in the Strip community group, said the tax breaks could persuade developers to improve some of the estimated 100 vacant properties in the Strip District.

“The 10-year tax abatement will make the cost of rehabbing these old buildings more affordable,” she said.

Councilman Bill Peduto said the mayor’s office should have focused the tax breaks on Downtown because it has the greatest potential for new development that would eventually feed the tax base after the 10-year abatement.

He said the bill has “flaws” because the Planning Department’s vitality index should have been based solely on income, akin to federal Community Development Block Grant programs.

“This is not perfect legislation; it definitely has its flaws. But we definitely have an opportunity to move forward and see some development Downtown,” said Peduto. He said he voted for the legislation because he believes Pittsburgh lags behind other major U.S. cities in offering such tax breaks.

In addition to Downtown, eligible neighborhoods for the tax break are: Allentown, Arlington, Beltzhoover, California-Kirkbride, East Allegheny, Elliott, Esplen, Fineview, Hays, Hazelwood, Homewood North, Homewood South, Homewood West, Knoxville, Larimer, Lincoln-Lemington/Belmar, Lower Lawrenceville, Manchester, Marshall-Shadeland, Mt. Oliver, Perry South/Perry Hilltop, Sheraden, Spring Garden, the Strip District, the Upper Hill District, Upper Lawrenceville, Uptown and the West End.

Jeremy Boren can be reached at jboren@tribweb.com or (412) 765-2312.

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Meeting airs arena concerns

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Kevin Crowe
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Tuesday, June 5, 2007

The displacement of families and businesses caused by the construction of the Civic Arena in the late-1950s was on the minds of some residents who attended a meeting Monday about the design and construction of the Penguins’ new arena.
Lois Cain, 69, grew up in the Hill District and lived there during the construction of what now is the Mellon Arena. She watched some of her neighbors and friends get forced out of the Hill. There were public input meetings at that time, she said, but the recommendations made by the community quickly were forgotten.

“I lived through this equation,” Cain told about 300 people who attended the meeting at the arena. “The Penguins have never been a friend of the Hill District.”

Cain’s comments underscored the feeling of distrust in many of the comments and questions fielded by the meeting’s hosts, representatives from the Penguins, the city Planning Department, the Sports & Exhibition Authority and Urban Design Associates, the development firm hired by the Penguins to help run the meetings, and members of organizations based in the Hill District.

The meeting was held to organize focus groups with the goal of getting input from the public about the construction and design of a $290 million arena Uptown, said host Don Carter, of Urban Design Associates.
It was the first step in a public participation process the arena project must follow to gain approval from the City Planning Commission.

In response to the comments questioning the process by which public input would be handled, City Councilwoman Tonya Payne said she wanted city planners to forward minutes from the focus group meetings to her office.

“If that information can get presented to my office, I’ll make sure it gets to the community,” she said, drawing applause.

Carter said that while he was happy so many people attended last night’s meeting, the time to discuss specifics of the new arena will be during the focus group meetings. They will be held as soon as a traffic study of the area surrounding the proposed arena is completed, and the times, dates and locations will be available on the city’s Web site, he said.

Carl Redwood, a spokesman for the One Hill Community Benefit Agreement, said the meetings should be about “more than just bricks and mortar.”

Redwood led about 50 people from Freedom Corner at Crawford Street and Centre Avenue to the arena for the meeting. They carried signs that read “One Hill,” and chanted “One Hill, One Voice.”

“We want to ensure that the community surrounding this development will see tangible benefits,” he said.

People who did not attend the kick-off meeting can sign up for the focus groups by contacting the Department of City Planning, the Hill District Consensus Group or the Hill Community Development Corp.

The six focus groups are: residents; churches and social organizations; community organizations; city and public agencies; business and land owners and developers; and historic preservation groups.

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Historic Summit Inn, local mountaintop landmark, celebrates 100th anniversary

06/03/2007
By James Pletcher Jr.,
Uniontown Herald-Standard

Built in 1907 when Theodore Roosevelt was president and the U.S. population stood at about 87 million souls, the Summit Inn is celebrating its first century of continuous year of operation this year.

Bought in 1963 by Eunice and the late Don Shoemaker, the historic hotel has survived economic depression, two world wars and a myriad of changes in society ranging from the advent of the automobile to manned flight to television and computers.

At one time, the Summit Inn “used to be the only attraction to bring tourists in,” Karen Harris, owner and the Shoemaker’s daughter, said. When it was built, Harris said, “there was no bike trail, no Fort Necessity, no Laurel Caverns, no Fallingwater.”

Now it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. According to the official documentation for the National Register, the Summit Inn is a distinctive important example of 20th century Mission and Craftsman-influenced architecture built as a stop for travelers along historic U.S. Route 40. Clinton Piper, who researched and submitted the material for review by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, said. “It (the Summit Inn) stands as perhaps the only sizable rural hotel that exhibits elements of a particular style. The building’s dramatic rambling roofline with twin towers, its central block with a parapet gable, expansive porches and prominent setting make it one of the region’s most notable hotels of its era.”

The Summit Hotel Co., comprised of a group of local businessmen, opened the hotel in 1907. The owners acclaimed it as “unequaled anywhere on the National Pike between Washington City and St. Louis.”

In addition to holding a three-star AAA rating, the hotel offers a nine-hole regulation par 35 golf course, all situated on 1,000 acres of mountain forest. “On a clear day, you can see the U.S. Steel Building in Pittsburgh from the No. 4 hole,” Harris said.

It boasts “the best crab cakes in the U.S.A.,” Harris said, as well as authentic period Gustav Stickley furnishings in the lobby.

On a cool day a fire crackles in the lobby’s stone fireplace. Small desks of oak and tables with checker games ready to be played add to the hotel’s nostalgic charm.

“We have an air of authenticity,” Randall Harris, Karen’s husband said. “People are sitting on the same chairs as Ford, (early auto racer) Barney Oldfield, Edison. That’s what you get when you visit an historic resort.”

“People liked the mountaintop property because of the cooler air. There was no air-conditioning for many years after this was built,” Randall Harris said.

According to its history, no architect has been found who designed the hotel. “Its detailed execution indicates that there was an architect or skilled builder responsible for the design. The building’s dramatic rambling roofline with twin towers, its central block with a parapet gable, expansive porches and prominent setting make it one of the region’s most notable hotels. Only a few hotels of this design remain in existence today.”

Nine Uniontown businessmen formed the Summit Hotel Co. and built the original structure. They were J.C. Work, Isaac W. Semans, Frank H. Rosboro, B.B. Howell, Dr. Charles H. Smith, John F. Hankins, John M. Core and M.H. Bowman, all from Uniontown, and W.W. Ramsey of Pittsburgh.

The group sold the hotel in 1930 to Leo Heyn.

Eunice Shoemaker said Heyn “started a lot of advertising,” even placing roadside signs similar to those for popular products of the day. “The Greyhound Bus Line even had a stop here,” she said. Heyn advertised homegrown vegetables and chickens raised on the property, elite table water and a “Summit Spa,” saying that Gen. George Washington once used water from the spring flowing into it.

Boasting “absolute quietness and cleanliness assured,” Heyn attracted other notables of his time, such as Cornelius Vanderbilt and one of the Mayo brothers, who founded the clinic bearing their name, Shoemaker said.

While the original developers built the golf course in the early 1920s, Heyn brought in Sam Parke as the golf pro in 1931. “He won the U.S. Open in 1935,” Shoemaker said.

The father of legendary golf course designer Pete Dye visited the course in 1923, returning to Ohio to begin his work designing golf courses, according to Summit Inn history.

Heyn also created a ski slope in the 1930s that the Shoemakers resurrected for a time during the 1960s.

The Great Depression and World War II made it difficult to continue the business due to a drop in automobile traffic. Heyn sold the property in 1946 to Maxwell Abbell.

The Shoemakers first exposure to the property came in 1958 when Don was hired to manage the hotel.

“He saw only vestiges of the historic porch hotel’s former glory, and he was far from impressed,” the hostel’s history relates.

“It was so rundown, there wasn’t a decent room in the whole place,” Shoemaker said.

Don and Eunice bought the property in 1963, investing their time and capital in restoring it to its former glory.

“It’s been a good experience,” Eunice Shoemaker said. “Many of our guests would return year after year. We enjoyed closing in November for the season. It gave us time to enjoy Thanksgiving and Christmas as a family. So, we had the best of both words,” she added.

Shoemaker said she and her husband visited local sales and auctions during the early years, buying furniture and other accessories they needed.

“My parents struggled to keep the hotel up and didn’t throw anything away but would reuse it, repaint it, change it if needed,” Karen Harris said.

“We bought the chandelier in the dining room and the landing from the White Swan Hotel,” Eunice Shoemaker said.

During their tenure, the Shoemakers added 21 rooms to the hotel, which also features two swimming pools, shuffleboard and tennis. The banquet area addition, done in a Colonial motif with ivory window frames and red and blue checked carpeting, was the last design Don Shoemaker did before he died in 1997. “He had the contractor come to the hospital so he could show him what he wanted. He never got to see it completed,” his wife said.

Don Shoemaker designed the growth, even helping in construction, spending one winter, for example, excavating dirt from under the hotel to create a downstairs lounge.

In addition, there are smaller conference rooms (one named for Harvey Firestone) and the Summit Dining Room, all available to the public as well as guests.

“We are open 24 hours a day. We have entertainment on weekends and our golf course is open to the public. We have summer memberships for our pools, too,” Karen Harris said.

Harris, who was 5 when her parents took over the hotel, began her official career there as a lifeguard. “I did a little bit of everything here,” in her career, she said.

Shoemaker said she has enjoyed all aspects of her life at the hotel and resort.

“I can’t think of anything about this that would be the downside of the business,” she said.

The Shoemakers’ efforts were honored in 1996 with the Pennsylvania Travel Council’s Distinguished Hotelier of the Year Award, presented by then-Pennsylvania Secretary of Commerce Thomas Hagen.

Hagen described the Summit as one of the few remaining “porch hotels” in America, meaning a hotel with what can be described as a grand outside deck overlooking the surrounding flora, the type of porch that conjures images of white wicker rockers, cool summer breezes and gentlemen and ladies of a different era altogether.

Business continues to be good at the 94-room hotel, Karen Harris said.

She and her husband Randall and her daughter Amanda Leskinen, operate the hotel today. Leskinen, a recent Washington and Jefferson College graduate with degrees in political science and business administration, is the events coordinator. Randall Harris, who was once associated with Herman Dupre, who founded Seven Springs Resort, handles infrastructure and is an innkeeper. Others on the staff include Sam Shoemaker, a cousin; Anna Marie Collins and Ray Parris, the executive chef.

Karen Harris said the hotel features all new menus this year including steaks exclusively from Black Angus steers.

Owners are also planning to expand the golf course from nine to 18 holes and will be offering special anniversary packages over July 4 and Labor Day.

As for the future, Randall Harris noted that with “1,000 acres of land, we have unlimited opportunities for development.”

For more information, call the Summit Inn at 724-438-8594 (toll free at 1-800-433-8594) or visit its Web site at www.summitinnresort.com.

Updated 06/04/2007 09:04:08 AM EDT
©The Herald Standard 2007

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Row house shows off South Side’s potential

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Pamela Starr
FOR THE TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Saturday, June 2, 2007

When Ashley Snider bought her South Side row house four years ago, nothing had been done to it since the 1970s.
So, the 31-year-old interior designer ripped up the shag carpeting and had the original soft-pine floors refinished. She took the wallpaper off the kitchen walls and painted them an eggplant color on the bottom and a lemon yellow color on top. Snider painted the metal cabinets with black chalkboard paint so she can write on them.

“Paint is cheaper than anything else,” says Snider, who works at Perlora in the Strip District. “I also redid the kitchen floor with black-and-white checkered tiles.”

Snider’s row house is one of 12 homes that will be featured on the 16th annual Historic South Side Home Tour, which will be held from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. today. Jennifer Strang, marketing and communications director for the South Side Local Development Company, which benefits from tour proceeds, says the group chose the house to illustrate how Snider was able to do a lot of work herself and stay on a budget.

“Ashley represents the next generation of South Sider, very in touch with her own sense of style but respectful of her home’s history,” says Strang. “Tourgoers will find a well-balanced mix of classic and modern design throughout and come away in awe that Ashley was able to do much of the work unassisted.”
Snider paid just $90,000 for the 1,500-square-foot row house on Jane Street, which was built in 1866 and has had 12 owners. A German immigrant, Jacob Dietz, purchased the lot for $300 in 1865 and had the house built the following year. The home was turned into two apartments at the turn of the 20th century.

This is the first home she has bought herself.

“I knew I wanted to live in the South Side,” says Snider, who owns a friendly pit-bull mix named Totsi. “It was the second house I looked at. I think I got lucky.”

There was an unlucky incident shortly after she moved in. Plumbing problems when the sewage backed up in the basement cost her $9,000 to fix. New pipes had to be installed. She also paid $4,000 to have the hardwood floors refinished.

Snider painted the walls in the dining room a nice, taupe shade and used the same paint in the master bedroom. She painted a wide, taupe strip in the middle of the walls of the master bedroom and painted the rest of the walls eggshell. Violet sheers on the windows add a splash of color.

“I kept the light fixture because I liked it, but it’s not original to the house,” she points out.

The bathroom on the second floor sports pink wall tiles that came with the house. The black-and-white checkered tile floor matches the kitchen floor. Snider created the medicine cabinet herself with a beautiful mosaic pattern. She painted the rest of the walls a charcoal color, but wanted black.

“That’s the way it came out,” she says with a laugh.

The second bedroom was painted with the taupe color; and Snider painted the ceramic Elvis bookends herself. She also made the platters in the kitchen.

“I used to work at Color Me Mine in Squirrel Hill,” she explains. “I have a lot of experience working with paints and stuff.”

The woodwork throughout the row house is all original, as are the fireplaces in the living room and master bedroom. She painted one wall in the living room a rich terra-cotta shade and the other walls eggshell. Snider just started to strip the original marble fireplace in her bedroom but it’s taking a lot of time.

“I work on stuff when I have the time,” she says. “I don’t plan to do anything next. I don’t have the money for a new kitchen or bath. I just paint things all the time. I do things in cheap ways.”

Strang says that the home tour will show very diverse houses.

“From painstakingly remodeled 19th century homes to beautifully repurposed churches and industrial space, there is something for everyone,” she says. “All represent the South Side’s commitment to historic preservation.”

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Block House roof removal sheds light on history

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Allison M. Heinrichs
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Saturday, June 2, 2007

The Block House, owned by the Fort Pitt Society of the Pittsburgh Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, is the oldest building in Pittsburgh and a National Historic Landmark. It protected soldiers during the French and Indian War and was used as a residence through most of the 1800s.

As the wooden planks were removed, sunlight streamed into the Fort Pitt Block House’s pyramid-shaped attic, illuminating six inches of dust.

Kelly Linn couldn’t have been happier.

“Nobody living today has ever seen this,” said Linn, curator of the Block House, as she perched on scaffolding, clutching a handful of dirty straw, twine and horsehair insulation.

Over the next three weeks, workers with RickJohn Roofing will remove the old roof, built in 1894, and replace it with a roof of similar design. The Carnegie-based company volunteered to do the project and provide materials for free, a $20,000 value. General manager Jean-Paul Bibaud made the arrangements.
The 243-year-old Block House’s attic didn’t contain any huge surprises — no bones of Revolutionary War soldiers or American Indians — but the materials used to build the five-sided roof, and the way it was put together, make it a historical treasure, Linn said.

“Knowing what’s under here will launch a whole body of research into the history of roofing,” said Linn, an archeologist and historic preservationist.

The Block House, owned by the Fort Pitt Society of the Pittsburgh Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, sits in Point State Park. It’s the oldest building in Pittsburgh and a National Historic Landmark. It protected soldiers during the French and Indian War and was used as a residence through most of the 1800s.

The roof has a top layer of cedar shakes, tacked atop the existing roof in 1948. Beneath is a layer of thick black felt, seven layers of tar paper and another layer of older felt, followed by inch-thick wood planks. Between the planks and the second-floor ceiling is an attic 4 feet tall at its highest point, and 16 feet wide.

The floor, coated in clumps of the dusty insulation, is littered with animal skeletons, bird eggs and old papers.

As she sifts through the attic in the next three weeks, Linn hopes to find a date on one of the scraps of paper or an old coin that would give clues about the age of the roof materials — which could date from 1764, when the building was constructed, to 1948, when the final layer of roof was installed.

Several archaeologists will inspect the roof, including a team of historic preservationists from Belmont Technical College in St. Clairsville, Ohio.

For Rick Gammiere, who co-owns RickJohn Roofing with Bobby Wallo, the project caps off an education that began when he was a child.

“When I was in grade school, we visited the Block House, and there was this rope that blocked off the upstairs,” said Gammiere. “I said, ‘I’m going to get up there.’ I can now say I have been.”

Allison M. Heinrichs can be reached at aheinrichs@tribweb.com or (412) 380-5607.

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Historic groups see opportunity in Rt. 28 project

Pittsburgh Post GazetteFriday, June 01, 2007
By Diana Nelson Jones,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

As the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation begins its final design plans to widen and upgrade Route 28, several organizations are working with PennDot to not only preserve the oldest existing Roman Catholic Croatian church building in the country, but also to beautify the entrance to Troy Hill and attract tourists.

The St. Nicholas Church, unused since 2004, is at the heart of the efforts of Preservation Pittsburgh and the Preserve Croatian Heritage Foundation. They want to turn the 106-year old church into a national shrine and museum to tell the story of the original St. Nicholas, the model for Santa Claus, and the story of the Croatian community that was established in the neighborhood.

“We’re trying to make the church a destination and to find a way to make this venture financially practical,” said Jack Schmitt, a board member of Preservation Pittsburgh.

One of the earliest Croatian settlements in the country grew up along the canal that used to parallel the river and provide a means for Allegheny City — which became the North Side after Pittsburgh annexed it in 1907 — to receive goods off-loaded from the Allegheny River. It is a history few Pittsburghers know, “but it was one of the greatest things that happened,” said Mr. Schmitt. “It was key to Pittsburgh’s development.”

He said the preservation effort began seven years ago “to save all the green hillsides and homes and mitigate the loss of historic fabric” along the North Side portal. The group has since accepted that it will lose many structures along the 21/2-mile section between the 16th Street Bridge and the Millvale interchange.

A collection of nonprofits are lined up to complement PennDot’s redesign, including the Riverlife Task Force, Friends of the Riverfront, and the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation.

“As a North Sider, I looked at the possibilities and thought, ‘Hey, this is the entrance [to the neighborhood],” said Mr. Schmitt, a resident of Allegheny West. “We can have walls with bolts sticking out of them or we can do something creative and save some of our history. It would be interesting and uplifting. If we don’t do something good, we’ll have to live with what is done.”

Goals include connecting the Allegheny River trail, via its footpath across the highway, to a green space that would run from the Pennsylvania Brewing Co. at Troy Hill and Finial streets to the church; to provide access to the church from the roadway; and to present the area’s history by posting canal stones and interpretive plaques along the river trail.

The road redesign will be a compromise of green space and concrete, but the retaining walls present an opportunity, he said. The preservation groups have asked PennDot to imitate the lock stone walls of the old canal that once followed the same course as the road. They also propose bronze outlines of canal boats against the wall as a whimsical experience for Route 28 travelers.

Dan Cessna, PennDot’s district executive, said the canal boats would have to be paid for by state enhancement funds, not from the Route 28 redesign budget, if PennDot approves their installation.

“We haven’t investigated to determine whether it would be feasible from a safety standpoint,” he said. “We haven’t determined the exact limits of rights of way.” He said PennDot wants the result “to look pleasing” and would consider the suggested hillside plantings and stone wall texture of the old canal.

In one of many options in its most recent design report, PennDot proposes to regrade the church parking lot to be level with Route 28 and to expand the road “primarily to the east to minimize hillside impacts.”

Arthur Ziegler of Landmarks said that though “nothing is definite, we are interested” in creating the interpretive plaques. “They would tell the physical history of the area, and it’s a history of transportation — canal, railroad, river and road.”

Other stories could include those of Indian trails and settlements, George Washington’s crossing, Herr’s Island, canal houses, the Croatian community, and the Heinz and Pittsburgh Wool factories.

Mr. Ziegler said Landmarks has been “very interested in saving [the church], and we like the idea that it might be a Croatian shrine. We were involved in getting a roadway to access the church with parking.”

In March, the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh had all religious objects removed from the church, as canon requires. The Follieri Group of New York City has a sales agreement to buy the church, said Victor Kamber, a Follieri spokesman. “We should close within the month.”

Mr. Kamber said the Follieri Group has been in contact with the preservationists and expects to lease the church back to them.

“We’re sort of excited about their plans and hope they will be able to” make them succeed, he said.

The Follieri Group, a real-estate development company, targets unused Catholic churches for preservation, said Mr. Kamber, “rather than see them destroyed or developed as something that isn’t representative of the community.”

(Diana Nelson Jones can be reached at djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. )

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YMCA moving to Market Square – New facility in former G.C. Murphy is cornerstone of renewal

Pittsburgh Post GazetteFriday, June 01, 2007
By Mark Belko,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Millcraft Industries wanted foot traffic to help support its revitalization of the old G.C. Murphy’s store. The YMCA wanted a more central location Downtown.

It proved to be the perfect marriage.

The YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh announced yesterday that it will open a new Downtown facility in the Murphy’s building as part of Millcraft’s $32 million Market Square Place project.

With the decision, the YMCA plans to sell its current Downtown building on the Boulevard of the Allies, but won’t be moving out until its new facility is completed. There will be no interruption in services or programs, said John Cardone, vice president of the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh.

“This is a seamless transition. There won’t be any break in services at all,” he said.

The new facility will be 38,000 square feet. The Downtown YMCA will occupy about 30,000 square feet of the old Murphy’s building and become the lead tenant of the Market Square Place project, which also will feature shops and apartments. It also will use about 8,000 square feet of an adjacent property that’s part of the Millcraft project.

At the new location there will be a 25-meter, five-lane swimming pool, men’s and women’s locker rooms, wellness facilities with cardiovascular and strength equipment and exercise rooms, and a multitude of services and programs, including nutrition, smoke cessation, weight management, physical therapy and cardiac rehabilitation.

Programs and services will be spread over three floors, from the basement to the second floor, rather than seven as at the current location. The new facility also will house Activate Pittsburgh’s staff and wellness programs.

Mr. Cardone said the YMCA had been looking for a more central location Downtown and has been seeking to consolidate space and programs. He said it has found that people generally won’t walk more than three blocks to an exercise program. Navigating seven floors in the current building also has proved to be inconvenient for members.

“Quite frankly, it’s really just too much space. The way it’s designed, it’s really broken up,” he said.

Moving to the Murphy’s building more in the heart of the Downtown business district should make it more convenient for existing members, some 2,000 to 2,500 strong, and help recruit new ones.

Mr. Cardone said the YMCA also is excited about being part of the resurgence in the Downtown business corridor, with the Murphy’s project, the construction of the Three PNC Plaza skyscraper and the conversion of the Lazarus-Macy’s store to office space and housing.

For Millcraft, the move will provide a steady diet of foot traffic, about 1,000 people a day, and a great amenity for residents of the 50 loft apartments it is planning as part of the Murphy’s conversion, said Lucas Piatt, vice president of real estate.

“It’s really going to activate Market Square and the whole Fifth and Market district,” he said.

Even with the YMCA, Millcraft will have 27,000 to 30,000 square feet of ground-level space to offer retailers and others. It sees that as potential homes for restaurants, spas, salons, and lounges. It also has plans for a market catering to the needs of residents and office workers.

The YMCA hopes to open the new facility in late 2008 or early 2009. Millcraft plans to begin taking reservations for apartments by mid-2008. A non-profit, the YMCA pays property taxes on a small portion of its current building. The Murphy’s building will become taxable once Millcraft completes its purchase. The move of the YMCA won’t affect that.

The Downtown YMCA expects to add about 50 to its 150-member staff with the move.With the sale of the Boulevard of the Allies building, about 30 administrative staff members for the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh will move to another location.

(Mark Belko can be reached at mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262. )

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YMCA to anchor Market Square Place

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Ron DaParma
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Friday, June 1, 2007

The YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh will cut the size of its Downtown facility by more than half when it moves to the vacant G.C. Murphy store complex on Fifth Avenue on the edge of Market Square, officials said Thursday.
The nonprofit organization will lease space at the Murphy structure and the neighboring former D&K retail store building, with the move expected by late next year.

The two buildings are being developed by Washington County-based Millcraft Industries Inc. as part of its Market Square Place project, a $32 million complex that will include retail stores, restaurants and apartments.

In November, the YMCA disclosed to its nearly 2,500 full-time and 500 seasonal members that it planned to sell its seven-story headquarters building on the Boulevard of the Allies and seek another Downtown site.

“The YMCA has made a major commitment to the revitalization of the Fifth and Market District and to making Downtown a much better place to live and work,” said Lucas Piatt, vice president of Millcraft Industries.
“As the lead tenant in the Market Square Place project, the YMCA will provide a sought-after amenity to the residential aspect of the project and provide essential foot traffic to help support the additional … retail use within the development.”

The move will bring 200 staffers, including 50 new hires, and the 500 to 1,000 people who use the Downtown Y’s facilities each day into the heart of the city’s deteriorated retail corridor along Fifth and Forbes avenues.

In addition to its members, the YMCA serves hundreds of others through its wellness programs.

“In our new Downtown location, we will provide wellness and other services that match the needs of our Downtown members at a convenient central location,” said Dan Lebish, board chairman of the Downtown YMCA branch.

The facility at Market Square Place will include a 25-meter, five-lane pool, men’s and women’s locker rooms, wellness facilities with cardiovascular and strength equipment and exercise rooms.

However, it will not have the basketball court, running track and other court game facilities offered at the current site.

The YMCA signed a long-term lease at the Murphy site, but terms of the deal were not disclosed. Because it is a leased facility, the new YMCA will be fully taxable property, said Piatt and John Cardone, the Downtown Y’s executive director.

Over the years, the Downtown Y attempted to secure tax-free status for its land and building at 330 Blvd. of the Allies, which drew objections from private health clubs in the city.

The organization will not move from its current location until the new complex is ready, said Cardone. He said efforts continue to sell the building, which has been home to the YMCA for 20 years.

“Our new YMCA will not only help us serve our Downtown members better, it will also enable us to invest more in YMCA programming throughout the greater Pittsburgh community,” said Cardone.

The building will be substantially more cost-effective to operate, and Cardone said savings will be returned to the community in the form of scholarships and enhanced services.

The majority of the YMCA’s new facilities and offices will be on the second floor of the former G.C. Murphy complex, about 30,000 square feet of its 38,000-square-foot space, Piatt said.

However, its main entrance will be on the ground-level floor of the seven-story D&K building, across from PNC Financial Services Group’s Three PNC Plaza project under construction. The connection between the D&K and Murphy complex will be on the second level of the two structures.

The five floors above the Y’s facilities in the D&K structure will be developed as rental apartments. Other apartment units will be located on the upper levels of the former G.C. Murphy complex, which is a combination of several adjoining buildings.

The Piatt project is being built with the aid of about $6 million in state funds. Additional help is being sought in historic tax credits.

Possibilities for ground-level retail space include a high-end spa and salon, restaurants, clothing shops and a bank, Piatt said.

News of the YMCA’s decision was welcomed by Arthur P. Ziegler Jr., president of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, which has been concerned about preservation of historic and architecturally significant structures Downtown.

“We’ve worked closely with the Piatts and their architect to ensure that the entire complex of buildings could be saved and made workable,” Ziegler said. “We’ve been pleased with the uses they are creating.”

YMCA on the move

New site

Location: Former G.C. Murphy complex and D&K Store building

Size: 38,000 square feet

Pool: 25-meter, five lanes

Facilities: Men’s and women’s locker rooms; wellness facilities, with cardiovascular and strength equipment and exercise rooms; whirlpool, sauna and steam room

Current site

Location: 330 Blvd. of the Allies

Size: 97,000 square feet on seven stories

Pool: 25-meter, six lanes

Not moving from old site: Gymnasium, racquetball courts, walking/running track

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Stained-glass ‘puzzle’ is piece of Fayette County history

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Chris Foreman
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Friday, June 1, 2007

Terry Bengel hasn’t had an easy task restoring the long-hidden stained glass that once graced the rotunda ceiling in the 115-year-old Fayette County Courthouse.
For the past five weeks, the Greensburg artist has been refurbishing the soot-blemished panels that were in storage for at least decades, if not nearly the past century.

Compounding matters, nobody in county government has any photos depicting how the glass, which has a pale amber ripple background, used to look.

But Bengel said he is confident he’ll have all 20 glass panels ready for installation by Andaloro Construction before a June 15 deadline.

“It was a bit of a mystery, and it turned into a puzzle that had to be put together,” Bengel said Thursday.
Fayette County President Judge Conrad B. Capuzzi has spurred the glass restoration, which he says will create a near-mirror image of the stained-glass dome outside his second-floor courtroom.

In March, county commissioners hired Andaloro, of Hopwood, to complete the reinstallation for $124,200, although only $2,200 in matching money from the county’s general fund has been pledged.

The remaining $122,000 is split between a grant from the National Road Heritage Corridor and defendant fees paid into a county magisterial court fund.

Once mounted, the stained-glass panels will replace plain beige plaster slabs that have hung in their place in the 17.5-foot-by-22-foot ceiling.

“They all required some work,” Bengel said. “Three of the panels were total reconstructions. They were totally lost.”

Bengel is getting down to the final work in his George Street studio, mixing and grinding ceramic colors into the panels reproduced by Connellsville-based Youghiogheny Opalescent Glass.

“It’s an important piece of historic preservation,” he said.

Chris Foreman can be reached at cforeman@tribweb.com or 724-626-3561.

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New YMCA planned for Murphy building

Pittsburgh Post GazetteThursday, May 31, 2007

By Mark Belko, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh will move to the old G.C. Murphy’s building Downtown as part of efforts to revitalize the Fifth and Forbes corridor.

It is teaming up with Washington County developer Millcraft Industries to open a 38,000-square-foot facility in the old building. The new facility at Market Square Place will include a 25-meter five-lane pool, men’s and women’s locker rooms, wellness facilities with cardiovascular and strength equipment, and exercise rooms.

As part of the move, the organization plans to sell its current building on the Boulevard of the Allies, where it has been for more than 20 years. The YMCA plans to make the official announcement at a banquet this evening.

The YMCA’s administrative offices, which are at its current site, also will be moved to a yet-to-be-determined location.

“The YMCA has made a major commitment to the revitalization of the Fifth and Market District and to making Downtown a much better place to live and work,” said Lucas Piatt, Millcraft vice president of real estate.

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Hazelwood welcomes new houses

Pittsburgh Post GazetteWednesday, May 30, 2007
By Diana Nelson Jones,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

City officials and neighborhood leaders broke ground yesterday on the future site of two new townhouses, among six three-bedroom residences to be built in Hazelwood. They will be the first new homes in the neighborhood in about 15 years, said Jim Richter, executive director of the Hazelwood Initiative.

The $1.5 million project featuring four townhouses and two single-family homes is being developed under the auspices of the Urban Redevelopment Authority. It has been planned for six or seven years, said Jerome Dettore, executive director of the URA.

Four townhouses will be built on Sylvan Avenue, across from the long-vacant Gladstone School. Monongahela Street and Homewood Avenue will each get a new single-family detached home. The townhouses are expected to sell for $129,500, the houses for $135,500. Two homes will be subsidized for home owners who make less than 80 percent of the area’s median income, according to the mayor’s office.

Vanessa Anderson has lived between the two townhouse lots for nine years. They have been vacant for much longer, said Arlene Dobbs, a 45-year resident of the street.

“I’ll be glad to see the weeds go,” said Ms. Dobbs. “Glad to see the land put to good use.”

“It’ll be a brighter place,” said Ms. Anderson, who considered the prospect of four new households on each side of her, saying, “I hope they’re good neighbors.”

She said she has walked to the curb regularly to confront people hanging out in cars whom she presumed were there to sell drugs, she said.

The Rev. Tim Smith, board chair of the Hazelwood Initiative, also has confronted visitors with questionable intentions.

“It has been quiet for the past year, and I think that’s why,” she said, adding that otherwise, the street is peaceful, with lots of homeowners.

As District 5 Councilman Doug Shields described Hazelwood, “You’re six minutes from Oakland and connected to everywhere.”

To give the Hazelwood housing development a boost, the city committed community development block grant money to cover an almost $300,000 gap in financing, Mr. Richter said.

“It’s a sunny day in Hazelwood,” Mr. Richter said yesterday. “Maybe it’s a sign of a sunny future.”

(Diana Nelson Jones can be reached at djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. )

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Historical state marker will honor playwright August Wilson’s childhood home in Hill District

Pittsburgh Post GazetteWednesday, May 30, 2007
By Christopher Rawson,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Today at 10 a.m., an official Pennsylvania State Historical Marker will be unveiled at 1727 Bedford Ave., Hill District, the childhood home of the late Pulitzer Prize- and Tony-winning playwright August Wilson.

The text will recognize not only Mr. Wilson but also the Hill, which inspired his poetry and plays and provided the setting for nine of his epic 10-play Pittsburgh Cycle, which chronicles African American life decade-by-decade throughout the 20th century.

The marker is being presented by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission in partnership with the Senator John Heinz History Center, the August Wilson Center for African American Culture and the Estate of August Wilson.

Making remarks will be some of Mr. Wilson’s brothers and sisters, along with his daughter, Sakina Ansari-Wilson, who will do the unveiling, although not until a number of officials have also had their say.

They include Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato, Councilwoman Tonya Payne, Andrew E. Masich of the History Center, Neil Barclay of the August Wilson Center and Barbara Franco of the Historical and Museum Commission.

There will also be messages from Gov. Ed Rendell, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and state representative Jake Wheatley.

The ceremony is open to the public. The rain location is the Ammon Recreation Center, 2217 Bedford Ave.

(Post-Gazette theater editor Christopher Rawson can be reached at crawson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1666. )

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Free tours showcase city’s special sites

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Brianna Horan
For the Tribune-Review
Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Pittsburghers didn’t need USA Today to tell them the view from the Mt. Washington overlook is one of the best in the nation. But as they work, play and live among the modern skyscrapers and repurposed factory buildings that meld to form the city’s skyline, sometimes locals forget to look up.
“People don’t see a lot of the details and don’t realize the significance of the things we have in the city. Too often people are looking down,” says tour guide Drew Chelosky. “If you wrap a nice present, you put the bow on the top. Architecture designers work the same way.”

Eight free tours of Pittsburgh neighborhoods, offered by Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, will point out unique aspects to the city, like the first drive-through banking window at the Iron & Glass Bank on East Carson Street, South Side; the world’s second-tallest educational building in Oakland; and portraits of history makers like Mary Croghan Schenley and Andrew Carnegie on the facade of Midtown Towers at Liberty and Seventh, Downtown.

“I think the tours are very nice because they help people to appreciate how interesting a city Pittsburgh is,” says William Garrett, 78, who has been leading tours for the last decade. “They make people appreciate things they see frequently, but they may not realize the importance of.”

Like Fourth Avenue, Pittsburgh’s “Wall Street” at the turn of the 20th century that held more capital than the combined holdings of the banks of England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany and Russia. Or East Carson Street, one of only 58 “Great American Main Streets,” once travelled by John F. Kennedy.

“Our tours are of places that have a fascinating history and are a vibrant place today, or that is an area in transition — and this transition is making it into a vibrant place,” says Louise Sturgess, executive director of Pittsburgh History & Landmarks.

This is the first year the organization will lead tours through the civic center of Oakland, a neighborhood where tens of thousands of students, medical staff, business people and residents give life to the buildings, parks and institutions made possible by people like Schenley and Andrew Carnegie in the late 1800s.

“It was one of the first true civic centers of its kind in the country. It’s an area where some of the most influential people came together. You can literally stand in one spot and turn 360 degrees, without moving, and see so many important elements,” says Chelosky, who’s enthusiasm of Oakland’s treasures was the first step to creating the walking tour.

Those interested in exploring the civic center can meet him every Wednesday at noon next to Dippy, a life-sized replica of the Diplodocus carnegii that Andrew Carnegie scrambled to acquire for his Institute in 1898. The group will wind around Schenley Memorial Fountain, then walk the former baselines of Forbes Field — now site of the University of Pittsburgh’s Wesley W. Posvar Hall, home to social scientists and education students. Past Schenley Plaza, the tour will continue to the Cathedral of Learning and the William Pitt Student Union, the former Hotel Schenley where Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and Babe Ruth were among the elite to check in.

Central Oakland’s history is a main element of the tour, but “we also talk about how it’s the core of a very vital district today,” says Sturgess. “We like to talk about this area in a very present-day way.”

It’s often residents of the region who take the History & Landmarks tours.

“We can see retired people, we can see business people from Downtown, and we can see students,” says Garrett. “They’re people who have some connection to the city and some source of information about it.”

As a child in the East End, Chelosky, 31, learned a hand-me-down history of Pittsburgh similar to that which many locals acquire.

“Growing up in Pittsburgh, people and their families have their own stories that they kind of tell,” he says.

His curiosity about local history led him to check the truth behind these stories, and as an employee at Pitt, and formerly at Carnegie Mellon University, Chelosky focused his research on Oakland. He has found plenty of historical significance to share during his hour-long tours.

“Oakland has that blend of a business area, a cultural area, learning institutions, residential areas and, of course, you have Schenley Park,” Chelosky says. “So within walking distance, you have a blend of everything.”

Free walking tours schedule
Old Allegheny County Jail Museum: 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Mondays through October
Oakland Civic Center: Noon-1 p.m. Wednesdays in June

Southside Strolls: 10:30-11:45 a.m. Saturdays in June

Downtown Walks: Noon-1 p.m. Fridays

June: Bridges and More

July: Penn-Liberty Cultural District

August: Fourth Avenue and PPG Place

September: Revitalizing Fifth and Forbes
Pittsburgh’s Parks: 4-5 p.m. Sundays in September

Sept. 2: Schenley Park

Sept. 9: Frick Park

Sept. 16: Highland Park

Sept. 23: Riverview Park

Sept. 30: Allegheny Commons
Special one-time tours:

August Wilson’s Hill District (walking tour), 2-4 p.m. June 23, $5

Pittsburgh’s Bridges from the Rivers (boat tour), 1:45-4 p.m. July 15, $45

Homewood’s Historic Landmarks (bus and walking tour), 1:30-4:30 p.m. Sept. 15, $45

Vandergrift, Pa. (bus and walking tour), 1:30-5 p.m. Oct. 13, $50
Details: 412-471-5808, ext. 527, or www.phlf.org

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PHLF Walking Tours

PSA for Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation and WQED Pittsburgh. TItle: Walking Tour

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Pitt aims to preserve the Cathedral of Learning

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Bill Zlatos
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Monday, May 28, 2007

Pitt is “redding up” the Cathedral of Learning.
Workers from Forest Hills-based Cost Co. are hosing down the University of Pittsburgh icon to remove 70 years of soot.

“We feel better when we’re redd up,” said Albert J. Novak, Jr., vice chancellor for institutional advancement.

Since 2000, Cost and Pitt have experimented with everything from baking soda to chemicals to remove the grime. They settled on a mixture of water and recycled glass, an abrasive as fine as powdered sugar, because it is the least harmful to the workers, lawn and plants and does not react with the iron in the building’s Indiana limestone.

Forty-two Cost employees have been working on the project since March. Some use pressure washers to blast the 42-story building at 70 pounds of pressure per square inch.
Others replace broken or cracked stone and repoint the missing or loose mortar. About 40 percent of the building has been cleaned.

The idea is not just to give the building a bath, but to restore it.

“It’s really to save the building for another 100 years,” university architect Park L. Rankin said.

The project will cost $4.8 million. The university plans to pay for the restoration with donations or its own money. Anyone who gives at least $1,000 will become a member of the Cathedral Preservation Society.

“We’re coming at it from a legacy perspective — preserving the cathedral for future generations,” Novak said.

When university officials first considered scrubbing the building, some preservationists objected, contending the soot was part of the city’s industrial heritage.

Historical or not, the soot was harming the stone, Rankin said.

“It doesn’t allow the stone to breathe. It clogs the pores.”

In deference to the preservationists, the university is leaving a 3- by 2-foot section of stone black, behind the Fifth Avenue entrance.

Besides hurting the stone, the soot hid beautiful details, such as the cast aluminum window spandrels with molded medallions made by Alcoa. The grime hid damage, such as fallen ornamental spires that will be replaced.

Work on the restoration is expected to be finished Sept. 28.

Cost’s crews normally work from the top down, but are working from the bottom up on this project. That’s because they don’t want to tangle with the peregrine falcons and their chicks roosting on the 39th floor.

“If the falcons see us, they’ll try to do damage to the workmen,” company owner Corky Cost said.

The young falcons are expected to leave June 21, and the crews will be able to clean above the 25th floor.

Bill Zlatos can be reached at bzlatos@tribweb.com or (412) 320-7828.

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After 70 years with no maintenance, inspectors assess Heinz Chapel

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Jodi Weigand
For the Tribune-Review
Saturday, May 26, 2007

Like a scene from the movie “Mission Impossible,” a climber made his way up the inside of the spire atop Heinz Chapel, drilled a hole and dropped ropes to two accomplices waiting on the ground. The three then scaled the side of the 70-year-old building.
“It was a first for us, having people rappel off the side of the building,” said Pat Gibbons, director of the Oakland chapel. “We got a few phone calls from people asking if we knew people were climbing around on the building.”

The three work for Vertical Access, an Ithaca, N.Y., company that inspects buildings in extreme locations. They spent three days this month documenting damage to the chapel’s fleche, the spire at the crossing of the nave and transept. The company will submit recommendations to help determine whether to preserve, restore, or replace it.

The project, which also involves inspection of the heating and ventilation system and the stained glass windows, is funded by a $250,000 grant from the Heinz Endowments, which likely will work with the University of Pittsburgh to pay for repairs, Gibbons said.

H.J. Heinz Co. founder Henry John Heinz donated the building as a memorial to his wife, Anna. Their children saw to its construction and Heinz Chapel was dedicated in 1938.
“It was really a great project for us due to the architecture and prominence of the building,” said Vertical Access conservator Evan Kopelson. “It’s a spectacular building and just a fantastic structure.”

It’s been 20 years since major work was done on the sheet-copper fleche, but university personnel decided it needed another look in 1995, when they found that one of the 16 hollow, metal grotesques attached to it had fallen onto the upper roof, Gibbons said.

Vertical Access was called in for the job because it was more cost-effective than assembling scaffolding, she said.

Even with their climbing equipment, it was difficult to scale the 9 1/2-foot fleche, Kopelson said. Modern buildings have elevators or stairs that lead to the roof, where climbers can find access points through which to drop ropes, but that was not the case with Heinz Chapel.

“It was a challenge in terms of rigging because the internal structure wouldn’t allow access to the outside,” Kopelson said. “There were openings about halfway up the spire, but for the upper portion we had to drill a hole from the inside.”

Once on top, the inspection team discovered that another of the 3-foot-tall grotesques had come loose, he said. The two figures will be put in storage until they can be reattached, Gibbons said.

Overall, the fleche is in good condition and shows aging and deterioration expected with exposure to an urban environment, Kopelson said.

“We found nothing we would call imminently hazardous,” he said. “We recommend that a pretty comprehensive restoration project should be undertaken.”

Ellis Schmidlapp, president of Landmarks Design Associates, the architectural firm overseeing the inspection, said he doesn’t anticipate an extensive overhaul because, compared to similar structures, the fleche was designed to withstand the elements. The South Side firm will advise the university on the best action to take once it receives Vertical Access’ report, he said.

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Turtle Creek’s historic K Building demolished

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Brian Bowling
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Thursday, May 24, 2007

A small piece of history tumbled to the ground last week when a contractor demolished the K Building in the Keystone Commons industrial park in Turtle Creek.

Bob Stephenson, president of the Regional Industrial Development Corporation of Southwestern Pennsylvania, said the former Westinghouse office and storage building was rapidly deteriorating.

“It was literally falling down,” he said.

A shed on top of the eight-story building was the site of the first commercial radio broadcast when newly licensed KDKA aired the presidential election results on Nov. 2, 1920.

Stephenson said part of the K Building site will be used for parking, but most of it will be used to improve the flow of truck traffic through the industrial park.

A group hoping to start a broadcast museum has been documenting the building’s demolition. Rick Harris, treasurer of the National Museum of Broadcasting, said the group hopes to recreate the end of the building where the shed was located using old photographs and documents.

A couple of factors that apparently separate the KDKA broadcast from earlier broadcasts is the audience. Most listeners before then were radio enthusiasts who built their own sets. Frank Conrad, assistant chief engineer at Westinghouse’s Pittsburgh facility, had built up an audience by doing regular broadcasts of news and music from his garage.

Gil Schwartz, vice president of communications for CBS, worked for Westinghouse’s Group W Communications in the 1980s. He said the popularity of Conrad’s broadcasts both created a market for radio receivers and attracted the first radio advertiser — a local music store.

“For the first time, someone linked broadcasting and advertising,” Schwartz said.

Westinghouse began making and selling receivers to meet the market, and licensed KDKA to create the first commercial radio station, he said.

Schwartz said Westinghouse doesn’t get the credit it deserves for historical accomplishments, and the demise of the K Building is another example of how the company is becoming a “vanishing civilization.” Many former employees now work for other broadcast companies, and meeting them is somewhat like a school reunion, he said.

“We give each other the secret handshake,” Schwartz said with a laugh.

Brian Bowling can be reached at bbowling@tribweb.com or (412) 320-7910.

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Fort Pitt Block House to get new roof

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Allison M. Heinrichs
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Thursday, May 24, 2007

Pittsburgh’s oldest building is getting a new roof.
The Fort Pitt Block House’s cedar shake roof will be replaced starting June 1 with donated labor and materials, the Fort Pitt Society of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution announced Wednesday.

“Every time we get a good wind, the yard is usually filled with toothpicks because the roof is just falling off,” said Kelly Linn, curator of the Block House, a National Historic Landmark in Point State Park, Downtown.

Estimates to replace the roof, which was installed in 1948 atop a roof from 1894, were about $20,000 — much more than the Daughters of the American Revolution could afford. Linn began applying for state grants when Carnegie-based Rickjohn Roofing volunteered to do it for free.

“I said if there’s ever a time to help out, it’s now,” said Rick Gammiere, who co-owns the roofing company with Bobby Wallo. “I visited the Block House in grade school, and it’s just really important.”
The two-week project will give archaeologists a rare chance to look in the building’s attic. “There’s no telling what’s up there, but certainly the architectural information would be invaluable,” Linn said. “We’ll learn how the building was constructed.”

The Block House will be closed during the roofing project, but people are welcome on the site to observe the process and ask questions daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Allison M. Heinrichs can be reached at aheinrichs@tribweb.com or (412) 380-5607.

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Rebuilding Wilkinsburg

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Justin Vellucci
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Thursday, May 24, 2007

Deanna Steele looks at Jeanette Street’s boarded-up rowhouses — their lawns choked by shoulder-high weeds — and remembers children playing on the brick-lined Wilkinsburg street when she lived there 20 years ago, long before she settled in Murrysville.
Mary Cathcart wanders through an abandoned, five-bedroom house around the corner and sees, instead, the foundation of a future community — a neighborhood built on the potential of four soon to be refurbished historic homes.

“I love old houses, and it overjoys me that, instead of knocking something down, they’re rebuilding it,” said Cathcart, 49, of Wilkinsburg, as she descended a dusty staircase in a home under renovation Wednesday evening.

“They’re beautiful. And they have such good bones. They don’t build things like this anymore.”

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation is working to ensure they’re not demolished, either. So, it secured two $500,000 grants from the Sarah Scaife Foundation and the Allegheny County Department of Economic Development to acquire and restore the four roughly century-old structures.

Once the work is done in June or July, each will be sold for $75,000 to $95,000.

Yesterday, most neighbors who flocked to a block party to walk through the homes were less excited about mortgage discounts for prospective buyers than what the investment means to the revitalization of their community.

Sherman Moye lives around the corner from the cluster of homes developers call Hamnett Place. He sees that investment every day when he drives to work.

“I’m glad somebody’s fixing it,” said Moye, 54, of Wilkinsburg. “I know it’s going to be nice.”

Michelle Malito, a Shadyside resident thinking about buying one of the four homes, was impressed by the architectural details the developer is preserving.

Jack Schmitt, who owns a massage therapy business in Squirrel Hill, liked the idea of linking the preserved homes together as part of a sustainable neighborhood.

“I have a business in Pittsburgh, but I want to have a community,” said Schmitt, 38. “I see the vision for the future. I see an eco-village (and) a group of like-minded people.”

Others see the project as a way to improve a residential neighborhood while triggering revitalization elsewhere.

“You work incrementally, and you work your way in,” said Michael Gleba, executive vice president of the Sarah Scaife Foundation, which has funded historic redevelopment in the South Side and in the Mexican War Streets on the North Side. “You have an opportunity.”

Some see Wilkinsburg’s past in the historic homes, while others see its future. Michael Sriprasert, of Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, simply sees the houses themselves.

“I see the houses as they fit into the context of what’s here,” said Sriprasert, as he strolled down the stone alleyway that runs next to one of the restored homes.

“There’s a perception of what Wilkinsburg is. People don’t realize it’s something more,” he said. “That’s what is going on here. … That’s why we’re saving these buildings.”

Justin Vellucci can be reached at jvellucci@tribweb.com or 412-320-7847.

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Mt. Lebanon golf course will note centennial

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Daniel Casciato
For the Tribune Review
Thursday, May 24, 2007

Pennsylvania’s oldest municipal golf course will mark another milestone in its storied history as it celebrates its centennial this summer.
On July 7, nearly 100 years to the day a group of 30 men built three putting greens and began golfing on a 100-acre farm, Mt. Lebanon will throw two parties to celebrate the course’s origins.

“What has made this golf course special over the years is that it has the ability to satisfy the needs of any type of golfer, whether they are a starter or golf professional,” said Matt Kluck, head Professional Golfers’ Association of America pro and manager of the Mt. Lebanon Golf Course.

The National Golf Association recognizes it as the oldest municipal course in the state, and last month the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation designated the former private club a historical local landmark. A plaque will be displayed for the first time during the celebration.

“We’re excited about the designation,” said Steve Dean, of Mt. Lebanon, community co-chair for the celebration and an avid golfer on the course. “The golf course is essentially in its original condition. We had a golf course architect come out to examine the course, and he said the greens were in the best condition from that era that he had ever seen.”
Local golf legend George A. Ormiston designed the nine-hole course. Andrew W. Mellon and Richard King Mellon were among the elite members when the course was originally known as Castle Shannon Golf Club. Mt. Lebanon purchased the course in 1947.

A facelift for the nine-hole course is being completed just in time for the celebration. Renovations began this spring to improve drainage on the bunkers and greens, add new T-boxes and bunkers and change the teeing area on the fifth hole. Planned improvements include a picnic pavilion, an indoor/outdoor learning center, a new clubhouse, a pro shop and a grill.

“Our long-term goal is to upgrade the course so it will be more golfer-friendly for beginners and to enable faster play,” Dean said. “Nowadays, people don’t have as much discretionary time as they might have had in years past.”

The July 7 celebration begins with a morning “Family and Friends” event costing $200 for a foursome. An afternoon event concludes with a cocktail and dessert reception featuring offerings from local restaurants and a chance to meet former Pittsburgh Steelers’ fullback Rocky Bleier and his wife, Jan, the honorary event chairs. The cost for the afternoon is $400 for a foursome, including the reception, or $50 per person for the reception only.

“It’s going to be a wonderful time for everyone,” said event co-chair Amelia Dean, of Mt. Lebanon. “We’re planning to keep to a nostalgic theme with the event, including music and costumes from the era, and a trivia game based on facts from 1907.”

Throughout the day, there will be free clinics, prizes and contests, including a hole-in-one contest with a $20,000 prize and a putting contest with a $10,000 prize.

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North Side homes delayed-Sewer regulations force developer to seek aid

Pittsburgh Post GazetteTuesday, May 22, 2007
By Diana Nelson Jones,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A slope of grass on Federal Street, freshly mown days ago, was to have had six townhouses by now. But no deadline ever takes complications into consideration.

After a November ground-breaking for the Federal Hill townhouse project on the Central North Side, the developer’s engineering firm was planning to handle the water and sewer connections.

But when the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority received plans from the engineers, after requesting several revisions to each of the first two, it informed the co-developer, the Central Northside Neighborhood Council, that sanitary and storm sewers had to be separated and the main line replaced.

Jerome Dettore, executive director of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, said that as more planning became necessary, “it became clear that public funds were needed.”

The URA recently requested $400,000 from the water and sewer authority board for the project, which calls for 60 homes, 40 condos and a smattering of apartments, most on Federal Street, some on connecting side streets.

The soonest the authority would act on the request would be at its June board meeting.

“Our hope now is to get a tap-in plan approved for the entire development,” said Rebecca Davidson-Wagner, executive director of the Central Northside Neighborhood Council. “Even if we can get [approval] for the first six houses, we may be under construction by August or September.”

Mr. Dettore said developers often pick up the tab for small infrastructure upgrades, but for a project this large, and one that involves the city, the water and sewer authority typically allocates the money for water and sewer reconstruction. The URA will pay for street and sidewalk upgrades, including an island planter that will separate northbound from southbound traffic on Federal.

The first phase of six homes is being financed by a variety of sources for $1.8 million.

Water and sewer authority spokeswoman Holly Wojcik said the agency originally requested corrections and changes on preliminary designs from Trant Engineering. Early this month, however, she said the URA hired Michael Baker Corp. to design the improvements.

Ms. Davidson-Wagner said the company was chosen for its experience with city infrastructure.

About 80 percent of sanitary and storm sewer lines in the city are combined, said Ms. Wojcik. “When we have significant rainfall, they overflow,” delivering sewage into groundwater. “Ultimately, you want them to be separated.”

(Diana Nelson Jones can be reached at djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. )

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Urban planning expert urges leaders to make local neighborhoods walkable

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Tony LaRussa
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Saturday, May 19, 2007

An urban planning expert urged local leaders Friday to adopt “smart growth” principles as they map out a strategy for the region’s future.
“There are a lot regions in this country and around the world where people have started to realize that things such as transportation and housing need to be planned in a very deliberate way,” said David Chen, founder and executive director of Smart Growth America, based in Washington.

Chen was the keynote speaker at the seventh annual Southwestern Pennsylvania Smart Growth Conference at the Omni William Penn Hotel, Downtown. About 250 business and community leaders attended.

Smart growth involves comprehensive regional planning that, among other things, takes into account environmental issues, global competitiveness, transportation, housing, changing demographics and social equity.

Given the Pittsburgh region’s aging population, Chen said community planners should make neighborhoods more walkable and less reliant on cars by improving the quality and availability of public transportation.

He suggested using smart growth principles when redeveloping older towns and neighborhoods, and when planning new communities.

“While there is still a demand for conventional developments, the market is shifting and we are beginning to see a greater desire for urban living,” Chen said.

With so many townships and boroughs, the region’s fractionalized bureaucracy creates a “significant challenge” when trying to plan on a regional scale, but it has been done in other parts of the country without annexation, Chen said.

“New Jersey has successfully linked different transit systems to create a more integrated system,” said Chen, who noted that some communities in upstate New York have begun to share municipal services.

During a question-and-answer session, David Ross, the planning director for Castle Shannon, drew attention to a lack of governmental cooperation by asking for a show of hands from representatives of local government.

Only four people responded.

“We live in a very parochial area,” he said. “Many of the issues we are discussing today have to be dealt with from the bottom up rather than the top down. That means getting local officials on board with the idea of working together. That will take time.”

Chen announced yesterday that Smart Growth America decided to hold its first national Reclaiming Vacant Properties conference Downtown in September.

Tony LaRussa can be reached at tlarussa@tribweb.com or (412) 320-7987.

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$1.5M will help arts center transformation in McKees Rocks

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Sandra Fischione Donovan
FOR THE TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Friday, May 18, 2007

A $1.5 million grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation will help a McKees Rocks community group continue its transformation of an old storefront into the Sto-Rox Cultural Arts Center.
“Oh, it’s going to be grand,” said the Rev. Regis Ryan, executive director of Focus on Renewal, a nonprofit that operates a health center, credit union, high-rise apartment building and social services programs.

The agency is remodeling the former Desks Inc. on Chartiers Avenue. After buying the furniture store two years ago, the group began remodeling with $500,000 from Allegheny County and another $500,000 from the Grable Foundation, Ryan said.

The $3.4 million center will include a 130-seat auditorium, art studios and classrooms. The nonprofit expects to finish work by the end of the year.

Focus on Renewal currently runs its cultural arts programs — music, theater, dance, visual arts and literature — in Sto-Rox schools. Once it’s complete, the arts center will host those classes and performances. Movable seating will enable the auditorium to be used for receptions, Ryan said.
Officials said $1 million of the Richard King Mellon grant is unrestricted; the remainder will come as a match if the McKees Rocks group raises another $500,000.

“We are in the process of raising the rest,” Ryan said.

The group is soliciting donations from former McKees Rocks residents involved in the arts, through its Where Are They Now Committee.

A spokeswoman for the Richard King Mellon Foundation said any comment on the grant would have to come from the foundation’s director, Scott Izzo, who was on vacation and unavailable.

Ryan predicts the center would be used throughout the day. Programs for young people would be scheduled after school and on weekends. But he hopes to convince school officials to allow students to take some classes there. The center would be open during the day for adult programs and classes.

“It will be a wonderful asset for the whole region,” Ryan said.

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Fort Duquesne drain discovered

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Jodi Weigand
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Tom Kutys knew right away that he found something special.
Kutys, 24, whose archeology firm is monitoring the $35 million renovation of Point State Park, was working in a trench two weeks ago when he found three capstones. He thought it might be a wall, but the hollow, brick lining told him otherwise.

“It was just three rocks with mortar between, but when we started further investigating it, things started popping up that tipped us off,” Kutys, a field technician with A.D. Marble & Company, said Tuesday.

Archaeologists believe Kutys unearthed a 200-year-old Fort Duquesne drain that drew water away from a storehouse or munitions storage area.

“This is, to my knowledge, the first physical evidence of Fort Duquesne that’s ever been identified since the late 18th or early 19th century, when remains were still slightly visible,” said Brooke Blades, a archeologist with A.D. Marble, based in Montgomery County.
It is the third major archaeological discovery at the park since the start of the renovation project, which will convert the area into a festival and concert venue. Archeologists previously found decades-old human bones and part of Fort Pitt’s interior wall.

The drain was found 2 1/2 to 4 feet below ground on the southeast side of the park’s Great Lawn area, about 40 feet south of the Fort Duquesne tracery — the brick outline of the original fort.

“The construction (of the drain) suggests it was made in the late 18th or early 19th century, and the distance from the remains of the fort clearly argue for association with Fort Duquesne,” Blades said.

Fort Duquesne, built by the French in 1754, was destroyed four years later as the British advanced during the French and Indian War. The British then built Fort Pitt in its place.

Few remnants of Fort Duquesne have been found.

Blades said archaeologists plan to follow the drain north and look for other evidence of Fort Duquesne, which might be near the surface.

“The fact that we’re finding things argues that there may be extensive evidence of Fort Duquesne intact,” Blades said. “Probably the lowest part, because buildings would have been eradicated.”

The archeological work will not delay renovations. The drain will be preserved and buried for a future excavation project, said Laura Fisher, senior vice president of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, a sponsor of the renovation project.

“It will be covered up in the short term,” she said, “but what we hope to do is come back and have an active program for archeology in the park.”

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Fort Duquesne remnants uncovered

By Tribune-Revew
Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Archaeologists have uncovered long-buried remnants of Pittsburgh’s original fort, state officials announced today.
A drainage system that once served Fort Duquesne in the mid-1700s was found during a $35 million renovation of Point State Park, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

The fort was later replaced by the much larger Fort Pitt, which was situated further up the Point and protected about 600 people during the French and Indian Wars in the mid-18th century.

Park renovations have been underway since December and included the controversial burial of a section of Fort Pitt that contained original bricks. Remnants of Fort Duquesne had been buried more than 100 years ago when the Point grew into a bustling railyard.

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