Bakery Square 2.0 will be pegged at $100M

| Thursday, May 17, 2012, 9:22 p.m.

Walnut Capital Partners executives say their success in converting and leasing a former Nabisco cracker factory into the $100 million Bakery Square complex in East Liberty is their motivation to spend an equal amount to develop a site across Penn Avenue into an equally ambitious project.

Called Bakery Square 2.0, the project will remake the former Reizenstein Middle School property, the developer told East End residents.

"We plan several five-story office buildings, containing 400,000 square feet, plus 90 rental townhomes and 20 single-family houses," said Todd Reidbord, a principal of Walnut Capital Partners, the developer of both projects. "We spent $100 million on Bakery Square, and we will be spending $100 million on this project."

Residents, however, questioned a zoning change that the developer wants. They said the change could result in less desirable development in the neighborhood and nearby areas and, therefore, want more restricted zoning.

Details of the new project were presented for the first time to about 100 neighborhood residents on Wednesday night during a briefing at Bakery Square. Once Walnut Capital completes the purchase of the school property from Pittsburgh Public Schools, expected by year-end, demolition will begin, Reidbord said.

"Our plan is to recycle the school material and keep it on site, although we probably will move steel from the property by trucks, using only Penn Avenue to enter and leave the property, thus avoiding any residential streets," Reidbord said.

In a statement, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said: "We've seen the overwhelming success of Bakery Square, which transformed the former Nabisco plant into the home of Google's growing Pittsburgh headquarters. Bakery Square 2.0 will continue this positive momentum, providing more space for businesses that will create local jobs and more homes."

Walnut Capital's plan calls for office buildings that will front on Penn Avenue, depending on spacing needs of future tenants. Townhomes will be built in phases; the first phase will consists of 30 units, with rentals in the $2,500 range. The townhomes will be built in strips that face other townhomes with a small green area and a road between them. The single-family houses will be closer to the existing residential area along Marchand and Aurelia streets, but won't have any direct street connection to those streets.

"Howard Hanna Real Estate is currently seeking developers interested in building the single-family houses," Reidbord said.

Walnut Capital's plan for the 12-acre school site is not set in stone, he said. The plan could change if the city doesn't approve a proposed zoning change for the property, from residential to Urban Industrial (UI).

"It allows us the density we need to develop the property," Reidbord said.

A number of residents, including city Councilman Bill Peduto, questioned whether another zoning classification, such as AP (combination residential and commercial) or SP (Special Planning, also residential/commercial) would be more appropriate.

Reidbord said residents can express their views at public hearings on the rezoning request; the first is scheduled for May 29 before the City Planning Commission. The final zoning approval rests with the nine-member City Council, which also will conduct a public hearing.

"Unless you include covenants in the UI zoning that would prohibit a strip club or gas station on that site, I would not like the UI zoning change," said Rob Pfaffmann, an architect and resident of Filbert Street in Shadyside. "You would also be opening the door for more UI zoning in that area."

Reidbord said he would agree to providing covenants restricting uses.

"Send me a list of what you want to include in covenants, and we can discuss them," he suggested.

Barbara Ernsberger, of Bayard Street in Shadyside and a former member of the City Planning Commission, said she favors a different zoning classification for the site.

Virgina Flaherty-Cormyn, of Lehigh Street in Shadyside asked if Reidbord's position on the Planning Commission could influence the vote. To avoid a conflict of interest, Reidbord said he will recuse himself from voting on items involving his company, and does not attend hearings when such a proposal is considered.

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