Pittsburgh scraps wrecking-ball approach to renovation

There's a new spirit in Pittsburgh today -- and many believe Renaissance II is the reason. During the decade of the 1980s, new construction activity downtown will rival , if not surpass, the hectic actions of the first Renaissance period which stretched from the end of World War II until the early '70s.

By this spring construction should be under way on five new office buildings which together will bring nearly 5 million square feet of new office and/or commercial space into the Golden Triangle.

Not only will the downtown area be a beehive of activity in new office construction, but a $300 million subway system will be installed by Port Authority Transit. Also, the city will be involved in considerable street realignment, improvement, and reconstruction.

If that's not enough activity for one triangular-shaped area, there's more. Several older office structures now are being renovated, with several more scheduled to undergorestoration and modernization, plus a new hotel will be built adjacent to the city's newly opened convention center-exhibit hall. The hotel is expected to open in 1983.

The centerpiece of downtown's cultural revival, Heinz Hall, will include a new outdoor plaza and new theater facilities. The plaza is part of a master plan by the Heinz family interests to develop most of the block behind the hall into a new theater-commercial-office complex.

Mayor Richard S. Caliguiri, who coined the Renaissance II phrase, said total development costs will exceed $1.5 billion.

Large portions of these funds will come from the private source as several Fortune 500 corporation build new headquarters buildings downtown. The city has earmarked more than $30 million during the next six years on improving the major streets, installing new street lights, removing overhead wiring, and changing street signs and hardware.

The biggest change will be the removal of the streetcars from downtown streets. Instead, they will move underground and by the end 1984, the downtown subway system should be operating. Federal financing is paying the bill

Scheduled to move into the downtown skyline will be the 54-story Dravo Building, key structure in US steel realty division's Great Street East complex. That's also the site for the main downtown subway station and, perhaps, a new hotel and parking garage/residential structure.

Groundbreaking ceremonies may be held this spring on PPG Industries' new 40 -story headquarters structure and five smaller buildings in the Market Square area.

Combined, they will provide 1.5 million square feet, just under the 1.7 million square feet planned in the Davao Building.

The 20-story Riverfront Center office, to be located across from the city's Gateway Center development -- the major commercial accomplishment of Renaissance I -- is now under construction.

Already under way are the 16-story Two Chatham Center office building in Chatham Center -- another Renaissance I complex -- and One Oxford Centre, a 46 -story speculative office-commercial building being built as a joint venture by two shopping center giants, the Edward J. deBartolo corporation of Youngstown, Ohio, and Oxford Development.

Mayor Caliguiri says he believes that Renaissance II will last all through the 1980s. He also said that while considerable attention will be focused on the downtown during the first half of the decade, the city will be preparing to do something also about those "gray areas" of town. The mayor identified them as the land closest to the two rivers -- First Side, which runs along the Monongahela, and the Penn-Liberty area, along the Allegheny -- where little attention has been given.

The Allegheny Conference on Community Development, composed primarily of the industrial and commercial leaders in the community, presented the city with a study of the Penn-Liberty area. It will probably be used as a guide for development of the property which links the convention center with Heinz Hall.

The conference was one of the leading forces in the first renaissance.

Another study in under way on First Side, that section that has many of the older and smaller office buildings. Even before any city action or proposal has been announced for the area, considerable real-estate activity has occurred in the purchase of these structures and their renovation.

Also ahead is development of the Strip District, that section which starts where the convention center ends and stretches eastward through the wholesale and produce centers of the city into residential communities

The city plans to acquire the Conrail produce terminal in the strip, renovate it, and then lease out space to present and new users. This could be the springboard for private development there, some of which already has occurred. To ensure it controls what happens there, the city plans to buy the old Penn Central station, consisting of a building and a historic rotunda.

Moving into the strip is the city's new cable TV agency, which is spending $5 million to renovate an older structure into its headquarters and studio facilities. Other developers also are expressing interest in the district, including one group which wants to convert the former Armstrong Cork building into an ethnic center for shops, plus residential.

"We will be the mortar that holds the development together as we expand throughout all areas of downtown and into the adjoining neighborhoods," mayor Caliguiri says. The neighborhoods will get an equal share of the action this time, not the bulldozer approach of the first renaissance, he promises.

According to the mayor, neighborhoods will get the lion's share of local, state, and federal funds. Of the $410 million in capital-improvement funds during the next six years, 75 percent will be funneled into neighborhood programs for improvements, restoration, and repairs of not just roads, sewers, and recreational areas, but in housing as well.

The city has a host of programs which offer some type of housing help.

Some examples are the home-improvement-loan program which offers low-interest loans and grants to homeowners with incomes of less than $25,000; the Neighborhood Housing Program, which provides up-front grants from the city to the buyer toward the purchase price of a newly constructed house; and Rent Brake , a program which gives grants to landlords to make their properties more energy-efficient so that their low-to moderate-income families pay less on their fuel bills.

Renaissance II will not be the swinging-ball approach this time, although two buildings built during Renaissance I in the downtown area are being demolished to make way for newer facilities. No longer will entire blocks of houses be demolished. Instead, a more conservation-type approach is being, developed where houses that are good will be saved and improved.

Mayor Caliguiri, a member of the parks and recreation department during Renaissance I, says: "We now are able to keep the city's 6,666 streets in good shape by placing them on a 12-year renewal program.And we are attacking the problem of deteriorated bridges to the extent that we are opening more bridges than we close."

There are some drastic differences between the two renaissances. Perhaps the most notable is the treatment of the small merchant downtown whose property is needed by one of the larger developers for a major office structure.

In renaissance I, the city, using its eminent-domain powers, was able to obtain all the properties it needed at "just compensation prices" to the owner. That's not the case this time. Credit it to a more sophisticated merchant, a more understanding judicial system, or the aggressiveness of both merchants and attorneys, but the small merchant this time is getting a better deal.

TAke the PPG and USS Realty projects. Owners who fought these corporations were eventually paid top dollar for their land, got new storerooms or buildings to replace their older ones in about the same neighborhood as their present stores, and came out of the battle with new facilities at little or no cost to themselves.

Although lawsuits were planned by the merchants, the agreements were settled out of court.

John Robin, chairman of the board of the Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority and one of the few involved in both Renaissance programs, noted the difference. He says: "The courts are more open on the subject and more people understand their rights in this regard. They are not afraid to express their feelings."

The city has done something different this time to encourage developments. It recently adopted a three-year tax break on all new commercial and industrial developments in the city, retroactive to last April.The city council had previously given the same three-year tax break to new houses.

Another major change in the two renaissances is the leadership. Those who directed the first one have either retired or are no longer here. That includes Mayor David L. Lawrence and financier Richard King Mellon, often referred to as the major forces behind Renaissance I. Today's leaders also are from government and industry, but the names are different.

New legislation may be necessary this time to do the job in some of the neighborhoods.

The city feels a conservation approach, not renewal treatment, is the answer, not only in the neighborhoods, but in some sections of downtown as well. And, of course, this time the neighborhoods should share in the action.

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