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Meeting sought to keep Saks in Downtown |

Meeting sought to keep Saks in Downtown

An attempt to keep Saks Fifth Avenue as a Downtown department store is in the works.

A representative of Saks’ landlord is trying to arrange a meeting with the company and city officials.

“I hope to get all the parties — Saks, the landlord and the city — together in 30 days to discuss a proposal to make improvements to the Saks store,” said Gary Wilson, principal of Langholz Wilson Ellis, the commercial real estate agent who represents landlord Oliver-Smithfield Joint Venture.

In September, Saks gave notice to its landlord that it could terminate its lease for the 513 Smithfield St. store in two years. The upscale retailer is pushing Pittsburgh city officials and its landlord for help to overhaul the four-level building, a former W.T. Grant Co. discount store, which it has occupied since 1977.

Whether all parties will meet within that time period is undecided.

“We have received a proposal from the landlord, and we are currently evaluating it. We are open to having a dialogue with all parties. But as of now we have not determined if we will be able to meet with them” said Julia Bentley, a Saks spokeswoman in New York.

Robert Rubenstein, economic development director for the Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority, said “we continue to engage in a dialogue with Saks and their representative.”

The URA has been talking for the past 18 months with Saks and the landlord representative about a possible URA loan, he said.

“Saks is an important business to our central business district, and we would be delighted if our business financing programs can play a role in keeping them here for the next 20 years,” he said.

Both the URA and the landlord have expressed an interest in meeting, Wilson said.

Saks, which still has about 18 months left on its lease, would like to follow the “template” of its New York store, which features designated boutique space for various designers on the first floor, he said.

What is needed is a commitment from Saks, the city and the landlord to share in providing funds for the $10 million in renovations and upgrades, he said.

“The city, through the URA, has said there is no free money available, but it is interested in providing a low-interest loan, if the other parties agree to participate,” Wilson said. Saks has not said no to the plan, he said.

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