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Demolition of Pittsburgh buildings makes way for North Side development

Bob Bauder
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These three buildings along Pittsburgh’s North Avenue are being demolished by the Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority to make way for a new residential building.

Demolishing three vacant buildings in Pittsburgh has generated considerable controversy in recent years over plans for redevelopment of the North Side’s Garden Theater Block.

The latest plan for the block, along North Avenue between Federal and Reddour streets, includes demolition of the three buildings and construction of a new one proposed by Downtown-based Trek Development. The development would cost about $16 million and include 60 apartments and ground-floor retail space.

Workers were tearing down the buildings last week.

The Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority, which owns the block, previously granted Trek exclusive negotiating rights.

Some residents have argued that demolition would destroy a significant part of North Side history.

Others supported the project, saying they’ve waited years for the city to redevelop the blighted block and sparring over the three buildings only delayed the project.

Stephen Pascal, who splits time between residences in New York and the North Side, said the demolition destroyed what remains of an old commercial district on Federal Street.

“After two decades of committed and creative efforts by so many to save these buildings, their senseless demolition is the outcome of self-serving mismanagement by the authorities regrettably entrusted with saving this block,” he said.

Trek originally had plans to incorporate facades of the three buildings into a residential building, but a court challenge filed by Pascal and another North Side resident stopped the project.

URA Executive Director Robert Rubinstein said demolition of 4, 6 and 8 W. North Ave. was the only economically viable option left for improving the block.

“The Urban Redevelopment Authority is a strong advocate and practitioner of historic preservation,” he said. “After more than two decades and a half dozen developers, we have been unable to arrive at economically viable means to save these buildings. They had become a public safety hazard to the neighborhood and an impediment to the businesses operating in this vicinity.”

North Side civic groups and local preservationists, including the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, supported the demolition.

Steve Riffe, 58, a Central North Side resident, said it was time to tear down the buildings.

“That particular corner, it needed something other than what was there,” he said. “Those buildings were just sitting there, and they were dangerous.”

Bob Bauder is a
Tribune-Review staff writer.
You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, [email protected] or via Twitter @bobbauder.