Pittsburgh planning official pans U.S. Steel headquarters proposal
One of Pittsburgh’s top planning officials panned the design of U.S. Steel’s proposed headquarters on the former Civic Arena site, joining other critics of the plan.
“I don’t think this is enough of an excellent proposal for this site, this client (U.S. Steel) or this city,” Planning Commission Chairwoman Christine Mondor told representatives for St. Louis-based FS Architecture on Tuesday when she was briefed on the plans. Mondor, appointed to the commission by Mayor Bill Peduto, is an architect and a principal with evolveEA, a Friendship architecture and design firm.
Mondor said the proposed five-story building with prominent steel and glass features looks like it belongs in a suburban office park, not anchoring a $440 million project that officials hope will help transform Pittsburgh and the surrounding region.
“We don’t agree,” Robert G. Clark, CEO of Clayco Realty Group, the developer, wrote in an email.
Clark said his firm has a “significant track record of completing world-class work both as developers and architects,” but added, “We are completely willing to listen, collaborate and work with the local community to make sure our visions come together.”
Clark said Clayco worked closely with U.S. Steel and the Penguins to develop the plans.
Mondor said the building lacks an identity.
“If you walked up to it, would you know it was U.S. Steel? I’m not sure. I’d like to see a stronger expression of our steel heritage and their prowess as a corporation,” Mondor said.
Kevin Acklin, Peduto’s chief of staff and chief development officer, countered by text message, “We value and respect the independence of the Planning Commission, and their core purpose is to challenge development to high standards of civic design. We continue to believe that this development to anchor U.S. Steel’s headquarters is good for Pittsburgh, and look forward to securing the commission’s approval later this month.”
FS Chairman Chris Cedergreen called the concerns “understandable” given people’s high expectations. . He described the building’s simple design as “timeless, not trendy.”
Cedergreen said his firm must work within constraints, including financial ones. Higher project costs could drive up U.S. Steel’s rent, he said, declining to say how much the project is projected to cost. U.S. Steel has said it plans to lease the building from a partnership that includes St. Louis-based developer Clayco and the Pittsburgh Penguins for at least 18 years.
“U.S. Steel wanted a building that was in the city, a building that was connected to the community, and a building that lowered their real estate and operating costs and optimized their flexibility, their efficiency and their productivity,” Cedergreen said. “This building achieves all of those goals.”
The design got a lukewarm response from other architects.
“I failed to jump for joy upon seeing it. The cut-and-dried lines are just passe,” University of Pittsburgh architecture professor Franklin Toker said Monday. Khee Poh Lam, an architecture professor at Carnegie Mellon University, said the proposed building’s aesthetics are “rather conventional.”
U.S. Steel and the Pittsburgh Penguins, which has exclusive development rights to the 28-acre site, declined to comment.
The commission could vote on U.S. Steel’s development plans as soon as March 24. Mondor said she thinks the plans can be tweaked by then without inflating the project’s cost.
Planning Director Ray Gastil said a proposed building’s appearance — including how it relates to surrounding buildings — is one of many criteria planning commissioners must consider when evaluating development plans.
Clayco said it hopes to begin construction in the last three months of 2015 and finish by August 2017.
Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.