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Plan for former Saks building enters negotiations

| Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, 3:16 p.m.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh on Thursday started negotiations with two developers to transform the Downtown block that's home to the closed Saks Fifth Avenue into a complex with retail space, 101 apartments and a garage.

Millcraft Investments and McKnight Realty Partners teamed to propose the development.

The URA's board of directors agreed to grant exclusive negotiation rights to them for 90 days, with an option for a 60-day extension.

Brian Walker, Millcraft's chief financial offier, said details such as the cost and financing of the project need to be worked out with the URA and Pittsburgh Parking Authority.

“Right now, multi-family housing in Downtown Pittsburgh is number one in the nation,” Walker said. “We're seeing the successes of that.”

For example, Walker said 155 of the 218 units in Millcraft's River Vue Apartments — the former State Office Building — were leased in May.

“In eight months, we're going to be 90 percent occupied,” he said. “There's a reason people are coming Downtown. It's because of investments like McKnight's and Millcraft's.”

Walker said the apartments would offer great views and likely have a green roof that residents could access. He said it's too early to determine whether taxpayer-backed financing would be needed to pay for some of the cost of the garage with at least 400 spaces.

Robert Rubinstein, the URA's acting executive director, said the proposal beat out two plans. It capitalizes on a strategy to meet growing demand for Downtown apartments and small retailers.

Millcraft and McKnight are uniquely positioned to take on the project.

Millcraft's Piatt Place residential development abuts the Saks site, and McKnight owns the nearby Oliver Building, where guests of a planned hotel could use spaces in the proposed garage. Other spaces would be reserved for residents and some would be open to the public.

Jeremy Boren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7935 or jboren@tribweb.com.

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