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$81.8 million Market Square project OK'd Downtown

| Wednesday, June 6, 2012, 4:18 p.m.
A rendering of The Gardens at Market Square, a Downtown office, hotel and parking garage complex on Forbes Avenue proposed by Cecil-based Millcraft Industries. Source: Millcraft Industries

A Cecil-based developer is headed to the city Planning Commission with a proposal for an $81.8 million Downtown office, hotel and parking garage complex on the edge of Market Square after Pittsburgh's Historic Review Commission approved the plan on Wednesday.

Lucas Piatt, Millcraft Industries' chief operating officer, said his goal is to begin work this fall on the project, which would have two towers collectively dubbed The Gardens at Market Square.

The proposal includes a Hilton Garden Inn hotel, a nine-story parking garage with 320 parking spots -- 200 of which would be public -- and 120,000 square feet of office space. The parking garage and office complex would be in one 18-story building. The hotel building would be 11 stories, but the two first floors would be dedicated to retail shops and restaurants.

Critics delayed the project's approval initially with complaints that the structures appeared too bulky and tall -- overpowering the smaller two- to four-story buildings in and around the square.

"We've done everything we can to make sure the building reflects smart development," Piatt said. "We did a good job breaking up the facades and breaking it down into small masses. The property needs parking, and obviously we know Downtown needs parking."

Millcraft made minor modifications, including using stainless steel exterior features to lighten the appearance of the buildings and special louvers, which look like blinds, to hide the cars inside the garage.

David Bishoff, president of E.V. Bishoff Co, which owns the Investment Building on Fourth Avenue, attended the hearing to argue that the parking garage and 18-story tower would overpower the square aesthetically, saying the densely packed buildings appear to be "crammed onto this site."

He complained that a parking garage several floors above ground would emit vehicle exhaust fumes toward more than 120 windows which tenants in his building can open.

"I own parking garages, and I can tell you they're never prettier than the day you put it on a picture," he said, referring to a rendering of the development. "To suggest that I'm not going to see this, hear this and smell this, in reality, after we get past the pretty picture, it's not the case."

Commission members said they were satisfied with the alterations. They voted 5-0, with one member absent and one vacant seat on the commission. Their approval was required because Market Square is a city historic district.

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