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Grant gives Pittsburgh Playhouse relocation a boost

| Friday, Sept. 26, 2014, 2:22 p.m.

Gov. Tom Corbett is expected on Monday to hand out a $4 million redevelopment assistance capital grant to support two more redevelopment projects in the heart of Downtown.

That's on the heels of the $5 million Economic Growth Initiative grant Corbett awarded Friday to support construction of Point Park University's planned Downtown performance venue, the Pittsburgh Playhouse.

“This Downtown is so different now than it was back in 1976 when I started walking down the streets to go to the YMCA,” Corbett said during a ceremony at the planned Playhouse site, on the south side of Forbes Avenue between Smithfield and Wood streets.

“This is a Downtown renaissance that's based on theater, based on education, based on private industry. I can't think of a better investment that Pennsylvania can make,” Corbett said.

Corbett's office declined to comment on Monday's announcement. But state Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, said the money would support redevelopment along Smithfield between Fifth and Sixth avenues, including construction of a 600-space parking garage with street-level retail on the former Saks department store site and a 228-room hotel on the top 11 floors of the 24-story Oliver Building.

Developers of the projects, Downtown's McKnight Realty Partners and Washington-based Millcraft Investments, declined to comment. The projects have a combined price tag of more than $60 million.

“This portion of Smithfield is going to be one of Downtown's major corridors,” Costa said.

The $74 million Pittsburgh Playhouse a couple of blocks away will be a five-story facility with a 560-seat theater with orchestra pit, dressing room and rehearsal studios, among other features. Two smaller theaters will be included.

University officials said it will attract 60,000 nonstudent patrons Downtown for performances every year.

While university officials said the project would attract the best students and teachers from around the country, Corbett touted the economic impact it would have Downtown. It will draw people to yet another entertainment venue, he said, “and that will spill over into Market Square.” In addition, the project will bring 600 jobs from construction and operations in the first five years, he said.

“Just 11 years ago, this was the rotting core of Downtown Pittsburgh; there was no reinvestment in this area at all,” said Ronald Allan-Lindblom, vice president and artistic director of Point Park's Conservatory of Performing Arts. “Now we are blocks away from a thriving cultural district (and) the new Pittsburgh Playhouse will become the heartbeat of Downtown Pittsburgh.”

Pittsburgh Playhouse will replace the university's facility in Oakland, which draws 40,000 nonstudent patrons a year to performances, officials said.

The Oakland facility hosts 250 performances every year. Point Park University President Paul Hennigan said the new center will allow for many more.

Hennigan said the university has not decided what to do with the Oakland site. “We won't need it anymore.”

Hennigan said officials would release additional details, including ground-breaking and completion dates, late next month. Fundraising for the project continues, he said, but he would not say how much has been raised to date.

Chris Togneri is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5632 or ctogneri@tribweb.com.

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