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Developers share their vision for Garden Theater block on North Side

Natasha Lindstrom
| Sunday, Aug. 2, 2015, 10:30 p.m.
Artist's rendering of the Garden Theater block.
Artist's rendering of the Garden Theater block.
The URA is working with developers to transform the Garden Theater block into a mix of residential and commercial space in the Central Northside neighborhood of Pittsburgh. June 15, 2015
Steven Adams | Tribune-Review
The URA is working with developers to transform the Garden Theater block into a mix of residential and commercial space in the Central Northside neighborhood of Pittsburgh. June 15, 2015
The historic Garden Theater block along North Avenue in the Allegheny City Central section of Pittsburgh's North Side, June 15, 2015.
Steven Adams | Trib Total Media
The historic Garden Theater block along North Avenue in the Allegheny City Central section of Pittsburgh's North Side, June 15, 2015.
Garden Theater block in 2015.
John C. Schisler | Trib Total Media
Garden Theater block in 2015.
Nan Donovan, 66, of the Central North Side listens as principal architect Ken Doyno talks about planned development of the Garden Theater block in the North Side. Dovovan lives on Federal Street, near the development site.
Jasmine Goldband | Trib Total Media
Nan Donovan, 66, of the Central North Side listens as principal architect Ken Doyno talks about planned development of the Garden Theater block in the North Side. Dovovan lives on Federal Street, near the development site.
City of Asylum chairman Henry Reese, left, and neighbors from the North Side listen as representatives from Trek Development Group, based Downtown, field questions about planned development of the Garden Theater block in the North Side. Reese hosted the public meeting in the City of Asylum event tent in the Mexican War Streets.
Jasmine Goldband | Trib Total Media
City of Asylum chairman Henry Reese, left, and neighbors from the North Side listen as representatives from Trek Development Group, based Downtown, field questions about planned development of the Garden Theater block in the North Side. Reese hosted the public meeting in the City of Asylum event tent in the Mexican War Streets.
Allegheny City Central Association executive director Tom Hardy speaks during a public meeting about development of the Garden Theater block in the North Side Sunday, Aug. 2, 2015.
Jasmine Goldband | Trib Total Media
Allegheny City Central Association executive director Tom Hardy speaks during a public meeting about development of the Garden Theater block in the North Side Sunday, Aug. 2, 2015.

Developers seeking to transform the North Side's blighted area known as the Garden Theater block pitched their plan Sunday at a community meeting, one of several leading up to a hearing Thursday on zoning changes needed for the project.

The informal brunch under a white tent at City of Asylum, a writer's group with a stake in the block, drew about three dozen residents and members of Allegheny City Central Association, most of whom applauded lightly at the end of the developers' presentation.

“This has been the best plan so far,” said Craig Worl, 54, an accountant who's lived in the North Side since 2004. “It needs to happen for the neighborhood.”

Trek Development Group, with partner Q Development, is seeking permission from the city's Zoning Board of Adjustment to exceed the area's height and density requirements for new buildings.

Plans for the block include retail space and an eight-story apartment tower along Federal Street. They preserve the first 30 feet in depth of each of three historic buildings, at 4, 6 and 8 W. North Ave., while integrating the old properties into new construction for structural integrity. The first 12 feet in depth of the facades would remain visible.

Several attendees Sunday said they would prefer a shorter apartment building but accepted developer claims that the height is necessary for viability. Some disapproved of certain elements in project renderings but appreciated developers' pledges to alter designs based on input.

“Some people don't like red bricks, some people don't like white bricks and some people don't like chocolate ice cream,” Worl said. “One more big opposition push, and no one will want to do anything here.”

The tone could be different Monday night, when developers meet at the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh with other neighborhood groups and the Mexican War Streets Society.

The society plans to discuss parking and preservation concerns in small groups and then vote on the proposal.

Allegheny City Central Association, or ACCA, voted by nearly a 7-to-1 margin to send a letter of support to the city's zoning board.

“I'm just concerned that (the developers) are being a little heavy-handed, and they are taking what ACCA says as the consensus of the neighborhood,” said Todd Meyer, an architect, general contractor and longtime resident of the Mexican War Streets who does not support Trek's plan. “The society and ACCA are basically at war because their perspectives are so different.”

Meyer, a self-proclaimed “staunch preservationist,” called Trek's concept “too ambitious” and the “wrong scale for that location.” He does not want new development on the Garden block to be any higher than existing structures.

Q Development partner Rick Belloli said the project will not proceed without “broad-based community support.”

“I think it's great, but they must deal with parking,” said Susan Larkin, a 33-year North Side resident weary of watching what she calls “political football” over what to do with blighted properties in the Federal North business district.

Trek CEO William J. Gatti said he is negotiating to secure at least 69, and up to 100, spaces at an adjacent parking garage along Eloise Street, owned by an Arizona real estate investment group.

“We are self-financed,” said Belloli, “so that helps us move the ball forward in a different way.”

Natasha Lindstrom is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8514 or nlindstrom@tribweb.com.

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