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Sale of former Garden Theater in Pittsburgh's North Side to developer could occur Monday

Aaron Aupperlee
| Sunday, Nov. 3, 2013, 11:48 p.m.
The rusted marquee of the former Garden Theater on Pittsburgh's North Side.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
The rusted marquee of the former Garden Theater on Pittsburgh's North Side.

Six years after spending $1.1 million to buy and close an X-rated movie theater in the North Side, Pittsburgh's Urban Redevelopment Authority is poised to sell the property to a developer.

The URA and Philadelphia developer Wayne Zukin expect to close the property sale this week, perhaps on Monday, said Rebecca Davidson-Wagner, the agency's manager of economic development.

“The hope is the moment we close, we'll be able to start construction right away,” Zukin said.

Cleanup work has started inside the theater, Zukin said. Workers gutted the seating area and will salvage some seats. They removed for cleaning the light fixtures and other ornamentation Zukin hopes to use in the renovation.

The city issued a building permit for the theater on Friday, according to the Bureau of Building Inspection.

The city bought the Garden Theater on West North Avenue in 2007 after a decade-long legal battle with its owner. It will sell the property to Zukin and Pittsburgh-based developer Craig Totino for $73,757.

Davidson-Wagner said the building requires major renovation.

Zukin and Totino plan to spend $7 million to renovate the Garden Theater and the adjoining Masonic Temple building, which the URA soon could sell to them for $37,860.

Il Giardino, an Italian restaurant by Domenic Branduzzi, owner of Piccolo Forno in Lawrenceville, will move into the nearly century-old theater space. City of Asylum, a North Side nonprofit that provides sanctuary to exiled or politically oppressed writers, plans to open Alphabet City, a restaurant, bar, performance space, literary center and bookstore, in the temple building. The upper floors will become eight apartments.

Davidson-Wagner expects that finalizing the Garden Theater deal will help line up leases and financing for other buildings the city owns on the block.

“We're going to start seeing real changes on that block, changes for the better,” said David Shlapak, development committee chair of the Allegheny City Central Association, a community liaison to the project.

He hopes progress on the Garden Theater, a landmark in the community, will push more development and private investment into the area.

Aaron Aupperlee is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7986 or aaupperlee@tribweb.com.

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