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Union Trust Building renovation could get $5.7M boost from Pittsburgh

Bob Bauder
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Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
An upstairs view of the rotunda of the Union Trust Building on Wednesday, July 13, 2016. Boston-based The Davis Companies spent more than $100 million renovating Downtown Pittsburgh landmark.It was built 100 years ago by industrialist Henry Clay Frick.
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Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
The central rotunda, capped by a lighted stained glass dome, in the Union Trust Building on Wednesday, July 13, 2016. Boston-based The Davis Companies spent more than $100 million renovating Downtown Pittsburgh landmark.It was built 100 years ago by industrialist Henry Clay Frick.

Pittsburgh is poised to divert up to $5.7 million in parking tax revenue to help the owner of the Union Trust Building preserve the historic Downtown structure and its surroundings.

City Council on Tuesday introduced a bill that would permit The Davis Companies to use parking tax revenue to obtain a $3.2 million loan for improvements to sidewalks, curbs, lighting, canopies and a rare, stained-glass dome inside the Union Trust. The Boston-based company is finishing a $100 million renovation of the 99-year-old building.

“It’s a jewel of the city,” said Kevin Acklin, who chairs the Urban Redevelopment Authority, which is shepherding the tax diversion. “It’s a beautiful building that had trees growing out of the roof. Over $100 million of private money went into this development. Otherwise, no public money went into it.”

The bill would divert 75 percent of new parking tax revenue over 18 years generated by a 190-space public garage in the building. After that, the tax revenue would be used indefinitely to create affordable housing in the city.

The Davis Companies could not be reached for comment. The firm purchased the building for $14 million at sheriff’s sale in 2014. Since then, it has cleaned up the terra-cotta and stone exterior and restored the interior, including a stained-glass, domed skylight that was covered during World War II.

Davis plans to lease the building as office space with lower-level retail and restaurants.

The building is open, but work will continue in phases, said Robert Rubinstein, interim URA director. He said the use of public money to help preserve the building is justified because anyone can walk in and enjoy its splendor.

“It’s open for public access,” he said. “I’ve used it often as a cut-through on rainy or wintry days, and I’ve taken people there just to see it.”

Acklin said water from Grant Street was infiltrating the building and the money would be used to remedy that, plus to make other improvements to lighting, sidewalks and curbs.

Pittsburgh previously approved similar parking tax diversions for Oxford Development’s 3 Crossings residential and commercial project in the Strip District and the former Saks Fifth Avenue department store site, Downtown. Millcraft Investments and McKnight Realty Partners are building a garage with stores at ground level and condominiums on upper floors at the Saks site.

Acklin called the public subsidy a smart investment because it would make public improvements, help renovate a historic building and generate new tax revenue from tenants.

“They rescued, in our minds, a significant asset of the city,” he said of Davis.

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312 or [email protected].

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