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'Historic' label sought for swath of Downtown structures

| Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012, 12:11 a.m.

A collection of post-War War II buildings and other examples of mid-century architecture in Downtown could land on the National Register of Historic Places.

“Mid-century modern is becoming very attractive,” said John Martine, a partner with Downtown-based Strada architects. “You don't have to be 100 years old to be historic.”

A proposal from the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation would establish the Renaissance Historic District, stretching from Stanwix Street west through Point State Park. Key properties in the district include Gateway Center, the U.S. Steelworkers' headquarters and the Wyndham Grand hotel. The district's name is a nod to the transformation in the mid-20th century of the area around The Point from industrial to commercial in an architectural movement known as Renaissance I.

The foundation and the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission will hold a public meeting on Wednesday to discuss proposals for the district and expansions of Downtown's Firstside, Fourth Avenue and Pittsburgh Central Downtown National Register historic districts.

About 100 buildings would qualify for inclusion on the register, which could bring government money for renovation projects. Buildings on the National Register are eligible for federal historic rehabilitation tax credits, which can total up to 20 percent of project costs.

“In my view, the tax credits are underutilized in Pittsburgh,” said Bill Callahan, the regional representative for the commission.

The foundation's proposal will go before a state review board in February, with a final decision likely coming before summer by the National Park Service, which manages the National Register.

Separate plans by a developer to expand Downtown's Penn-Liberty National Register Historic District also will be discussed at the meeting, which begins at 8:30 a.m. at the Regional Enterprise Tower, 425 Sixth Ave.

“It is very significant,” said Arthur Ziegler Jr., the foundation's president. “I haven't really seen a whole Downtown looked at this way. I think we are on the cutting edge.”

Less than two decades ago, Ziegler and the foundation successfully fought former Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy and his plans to raze dozens of Downtown properties — some dating to the 1800s — and build an urban retail sector at Fifth and Forbes avenues.

“I think we've come a long way,” Ziegler said.

Part of the city's PreservePGH plan to protect historic and cultural assets calls for the extension and possible consolidation of Downtown historic districts.

Since the National Register's inception in 1976, 461 projects in Allegheny County costing $641 million have received federal tax credits, according to the state Bureau of Historic Preservation.

Among those was the approximately $40 million Market Square Place project, which included work by Strada.

“It really couldn't have happened without the historic tax credit and other incentives,” Martine said.

Jason Cato is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7936 or jcato@tribweb.com.

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