Monoreville losing -- and gaining -- exhibition space

| Thursday, Aug. 28, 2008

Monroeville is losing its ExpoMart but will gain a new exhibition, meeting and convention center at a nearby site, according to plans disclosed Wednesday by the facility's owner.

Oxford Development Co. plans to convert the empty Wickes furniture store in Monroeville into a $16.2 million, 96,000-square-foot complex that would replace the ExpoMart in the overall Monroeville Mall development area.

In turn, the ExpoMart is to be converted into a full office building, said Oxford President David Matter, at a meeting of the Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County.

"The new exhibition facility will house the Greater Monroeville Convention and Visitors Bureau as well as a kiosk for the Monroeville Chamber of Commerce," Matter said.

The redevelopment authority board of directors approved Oxford's request to have the county's Department of Economic Development submit two applications to the state for grants totaling $4.28 million to support the project.

Matter said the company is seeking an additional $1 million from the state. The company did not seek the authority's help on that request.

"We currently are negotiating with a tenant that would take about 165,000 square feet in the 225,000-square-foot office building," he said. He declined to identify the potential tenant.

If a deal is completed, the tenant would begin moving into the ExpoMart starting late this year and take full occupancy by fall 2009, Matter said.

Two current ExpoMart tenants, Rizzo Engineers and ITT, will remain.

With 106,000 square feet of exhibit space, eight conference rooms and 1,600 free, on-site parking spaces, the ExpoMart has been drawing people to Monroeville for 27 years since its opening in 1981. In recent years, it has hosted more than 125 conventions a year, an average of more than two events a week.

It has served as part office complex, with its Internet site most recently listing 18 business and higher education tenants.

In June, Oxford disclosed plans to redevelop the ExpoMart and the adjoining Radisson Hotel, starting with a downsizing of the hotel and the addition of two restaurants.

It plans to demolish the southern tower of the Radisson Hotel, reduce the number of rooms from 332 to 186 and renovate the remainder of the hotel as part of an overall reconfiguration and improvement of its properties there.

The company said it would consider converting the vacant former Wickes building at 135 Mall Blvd. into a retail center or another restaurant. Oxford owns the building where Wickes stopped operations in 2004.

The ExpoMart, located at 105 Mall Blvd., is not part of Monroeville Mall, which is owned by CBL & Associates Properties Inc. of Chattanooga, Tenn.

A second convention center complex, containing 100,000 square feet or less, may be built in the Southpointe II complex in Washington County. Horizon Properties, developer of Southpointe II, is evaluating a study on whether to build a center.

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