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$460M RiverParc project in Cultural District still has potential

| Thursday, July 18, 2013, 12:04 a.m.
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RiverParc would cover 14 square blocks roughly between Seventh and Ninth streets and Fort Duquesne Boulevard and Penn Avenue. The glitzy development was to boast a four-star hotel, shops, restaurants, condominiums and townhouses. About 3,000 people would live or work there.

A $460 million Downtown development might be built even though a dispute between two partners is headed to court.

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Joseph James scheduled a trial between the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and developer Concord Eastridge Inc. for February. The exact date is not determined.

“We would still love to develop the property,” said Susan Eastridge, CEO and founder of the Washington-based company. “Every time I come to Pittsburgh, I look wistfully at it.”

The project, called RiverParc, debuted in 2006 amid hoopla when the Cultural Trust announced the hiring of Concord Eastridge from among more than 100 developers, architects, artists and design professionals.

Covering 14 square blocks, roughly between Seventh and Ninth streets, and Fort Duquesne Boulevard and Penn Avenue, the glitzy development was to boast a four-star hotel, shops, restaurants, condominiums and townhouses. About 3,000 people would live or work there, officials said.

In 2008, the Cultural Trust indefinitely postponed the project, citing the volatile economy, especially in the housing and mortgage industry. Since then, the market rebounded, and the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership reports an occupancy rate for Downtown rental units at nearly 96 percent.

“The last time I was in Pittsburgh, there was a two-and-a-half-year waiting list for housing in Downtown,” Eastridge said.

Her company sued the Cultural Trust in 2009, seeking damages of at least $5.2million. It alleges breach of contract and negligent or intentional misrepresentation caused by the Cultural Trust's failure to continue with the project and to sell the developer parcels of land for $5.9 million.

J. Kevin McMahon, president and CEO of the Cultural Trust, said the development isn't dead. He declined to say whether the Cultural Trust would let Concord Eastridge develop the land but said work would start when the market and investors are ready.

“We'd like to have this come to a resolution,” McMahon said.

RiverParc is an ambitious plan: seven residential “green” buildings, parks, winter gardens, roof terraces and a gallery that could include a floating stage.

Assisting on the project were experts from around the world — among them, Behnisch Architekten and climate engineer Transsolar, both of Stuttgart, Germany; architectsAlliance of Toronto; and master planner Gehl Architects of Copenhagen. Merrill Lynch of New York was helping to supply cash.

Ralph A. Falbo hopes RiverParc moves forward. The owner of Ralph Falbo Inc., a Downtown developer, he developed 151 First Side, an 18-story building Downtown with 82 units.

“The more people you have, everybody benefits,” he said. “The shops benefit. The apartments benefit. The garages benefit. The theaters benefit. The restaurants benefit.”

RiverParc was to break ground in 2011. The first phase of residences and storefronts was to open this year.

Concord Eastridge's website displays prominently a nighttime view of a rendering for RiverParc, with its glittering glass shimmering on the Allegheny River.

John Valentine, executive director of the Pittsburgh Downtown Community Development Corp., said RiverParc would make something good even better.

“I couldn't stress enough that you're taking an area of the city that's already vibrant and making it more vibrant,” he said.

Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or bzlatos@tribweb.com.

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