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Literacy center, restaurant planned for area near Garden Theater

| Monday, March 18, 2013, 11:40 p.m.
Steven Adams | Tribune-Review
The Garden Theater block along West North Avenue in the Central North Side neighborhood of Pittsburgh. January 1, 2014.

City of Asylum, a North Side nonprofit that provides sanctuary to exiled or politically oppressed writers, plans to open a combination bookstore, cafe and 150-seat performance center in the former Masonic Temple building on North Avenue.

The Alphabet City Literary Center is expected to open in spring 2014 and will offer visitors a free book distribution program, classrooms and a recording and broadcast-equipped performance center, Elizabeth Baisley, a spokeswoman for City of Asylum, said Monday.

The literary center is part of a larger effort by the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority and private partners Zukin Realty of Philadelphia and Collaborative Ventures of Pittsburgh to revitalize a block of dilapidated buildings near the former Garden Theater at the corner of North Avenue and Federal Street, a thoroughfare many consider to be the front door to the core of the North Side.

“Being able to position this in the business center of the North Side will be a tremendous advantage for us in terms of developing audiences,” Baisley said.

In January 2012, Collaborative Ventures announced it had leased 5,000 square feet in the Masonic Temple to Nakama, a popular Japanese restaurant and sushi bar on the South Side that wanted to establish a second location. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl held a press conference to tout the development, but the deal appears to have fizzled.

Representatives of Collaborative Ventures, Zukin and Nakama did not return calls seeking comment.

Baisley said City of Asylum signed a lease for the former Masonic building in the past week. City of Asylum had first planned to open Alphabet City on a triple lot on Monterey Street between Sampsonia Way and Jacksonia Street, but a zoning dispute halted those plans.

Barbara Talerico, president of the Allegheny City Central Association, formerly the Central Northside Neighborhood Council, said the literary center will enhance the appeal of the neighborhood.

She said plans are still progressing by restaurateur Domenic Branduzzi, owner of the Piccolo Forno restaurant in Lawrenceville, to open Il Giardino (“The Garden” in Italian) restaurant in the Garden Theater. Work on the roughly 100-seat restaurant could start this spring, she said.

The URA bought the former adult movie house in 2007 for $1.1 million. The authority agreed to sell 12 lots, including the Garden, Masonic Temple and the Bradbury Building, which will be converted into 16 apartments, to Allegheny City Development, a joint venture between Zukin and Collaborative Ventures, for $250,000.

Jeremy Boren is a staff writer for Total Trib Media. Reach him at 412-320-7935 or jboren@tribweb.com.

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