Published on February 12, 2019
The Pittsburgh Planning Commission on Tuesday approved redevelopment of the former Penn Plaza Apartment property in East Liberty, ending more than three years of acrimony between the developer, city, residents and community activists.
Larry Gumberg, founder and president of L.G. Realty Advisors, called it the most “exciting and time consuming” project he’s ever attempted in Pittsburgh. L.G. Realty is the parent company of Pennley Park South, which owns the 9-acre parcel along Penn Avenue.
“We’re very excited to move forward with our development and looking forward to creating jobs and taxes, and eventually money, here for the affordable housing trust fund,” he said. “You have to give credit here to the planning commissioners. They have a very hard job in front of them when there are a number of people that are indicating concerns that they have for the community.”
The company is planning a $50 million, nine story office and retail building in the first phase of construction, with a second phase in the works that will likely mirror the first, according to Gumberg. Plans call for 672 spaces of integrated parking, 62 spots for parking bicycles and reconfiguration of neighboring Enright Parklet.
Gumberg said plans also call for a supermarket and he hopes Whole Foods will reconsider moving into the building. Whole Foods had considered moving its market on Centre Avenue in East Liberty to the development, but pulled out because of controversy surrounding it.
Former residents of Penn Plaza and community activists staged numerous protests, saying the complex compounded neighborhood gentrification and argued for inclusion of affordable housing to replace apartments lost with the demolition of Penn Plaza. About 228 people lived in Penn Plaza in 2015, when LG Realty notified residents it intended to close the complex.
A court settlement stipulated that 70 percent of increased tax revenue after the project is completed would be split, with half going toward public infrastructure and the other half for affordable housing and improvements to a small park on site.
Pittsburgh Planning Director Ray Gastil estimated the project’s first phase would generate about $6.3 million in additional tax revenue, with $2.15 million of that going into the affordable housing fund and $1 million for renovations of Enright Parklet. Under the court agreement, the affordable housing must be built within 3/4 of a mile of the new development.
Gumberg said construction is scheduled to begin in August and should take about two years. He declined to comment on possible retailers for the building, but said the company would market the office space to tech and financial investment companies.
Planning commissioners voted 5-2 for approval of the project with Chairwoman Christine Mondor and Sabina Deitrick dissenting.
Rendered sketch provided by Pittsburgh Planning Commission