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URA drops Philly developer, cites delays on Masonic Temple project

Tom Fontaine
| Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014, 6:15 p.m.
The old Masonic Temple building abuts the left side of the Garden Theater in this panoramic photo of North Avenue in Pittsburgh's North Side, Aug. 27, 2014.
Steven Adams | Trib Total Media
The old Masonic Temple building abuts the left side of the Garden Theater in this panoramic photo of North Avenue in Pittsburgh's North Side, Aug. 27, 2014.

The city's Urban Redevelopment Authority said Wednesday it scrapped a deal with a Philadelphia developer that planned to renovate the vacant Masonic Temple building in the heart of a North Side block long considered an eyesore.

“It was a mutual, amicable parting. We just couldn't come to terms” with Allegheny City Development Group LLC, headed by Philadelphia developer Wayne Zukin, said Kyra Straussman, the URA's real estate director.

Zukin did not return a call.

“Our goal is to see City of Asylum Pittsburgh in the Masonic Temple building, and we are working with them to expedite the project,” said URA Acting Executive Director Robert Rubinstein.

City of Asylum, a North Side nonprofit that offers literary and community programs, still hopes to use the ground floor of the renovated building for offices, a bookstore, a restaurant, and performance and workshop space, the nonprofit's co-founder and President R. Henry Reese said.

“We think the project will really help change that block for the better,” Reese said.

The URA hasn't settled on a new developer. It could tackle the project through its affiliated development arm, the Pittsburgh Economic & Industrial Development Corp., Straussman said.

The URA and Allegheny City had been at odds over the project's slow pace.

The developer acquired an option on the temple building and several surrounding properties, including the neighboring Garden Theater, in May 2011. Citing project delays and City of Asylum's desire to occupy the space, the URA threatened to terminate the option for the Masonic Temple building in late June. URA extended the deadline by 45 days, but a deal couldn't be reached, Straussman said.

Reese said City of Asylum hasn't decided whether it will buy or rent its space. It hopes to open by next summer. Renovations are expected to cost $2.5 million to $3 million, he said.

Allegheny City had planned to put up to eight apartments of one to three bedrooms each on the upper floor, but it's not clear how that space will be used now, officials said.

Allegheny City is continuing with development of the Garden Theater. It plans to open a restaurant there next year, the URA said.

Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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