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Wilkinsburg makeover funded

| Tuesday, July 3, 2012, 6:38 p.m.

The landmark Penn-Lincoln hotel and apartments in Wilkinsburg will be demolished, one of five development projects to win approval on Tuesday for $500,000 in grants from the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Financing Authority, The authority approved the grant for a proposal to demolish the vacant, six-story hotel, which was built in 1927. With its art deco lighting fixtures, wrought iron railings and spacious ballroom, it was the site for weddings and other events.

Other projects approved were:

• A request from the Allegheny County Airport Authority to build three aircraft hangars and one 50,000-square-foot single-story office building adjacent to the Airside Business Park, near Pittsburgh International Airport.

• Infrastructure work at the Carrie Furnace Redevelopment site in Rankin, a $2.5 million project that will include a sanitary sewer line and site tie-in to a previously built water line.

• Infrastructure and general public improvements by the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh for property it owns Downtown where the $72.6 million, 17-story Gardens at Market Square is to be built.

• To help pay for underground parking at the $30 million Schenley Place in Oakland, a seven-story Class A office building that has been under development since 2006 by Elmhurst Group of Pittsburgh.

All projects received initial approval of the Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County last week.

The Wilkinsburg project, by Landmarks Development Corp., part of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, will be used for environmental remediation necessary to demolish the building. After the building is demolished, plans are to construct a “new high-quality building” on a scale of the existing buildings on Penn Avenue business district. Demolition cost is $580,715.

The state previously approved $88,215 for project, said State Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park.

“We tested the market, both commercial and residential, to determine any interest in the building, once it was renovated, but found no interest. Our studies showed that the cost of renovating the building, which once also was used as apartments, was cost prohibited, and our attempts to find financial sources for the work were unsuccessful,” said Arthur Ziegler, president, Pittsburgh History and Landmarks.

“We are committed, once the building is demolished, to build an appropriate new building, with perhaps retail on the first level and offices above,” he said.

If the building is demolished, it will end its reign as the largest structure in the Wilkinsburg business district. The 70,000-square-foot structure was designed by architect Benno Janssen, who also was the architect for the William Penn Hotel and the former Kaufmann's Department Store (now Macy's), both Downtown, and the Pittsburgh Athletic Club.

It has been vacant for more than 15 years and, after several studies, was found to be too costly to repair. All of its windows are broken, and some windows, as well as bricks, have fallen to the sidewalk, creating a possible danger for pedestrians.

Elmhurst first introduced the Schenley Place project in 2006. At that time, plans called for a nine-story, 143,000-square-foot building. In 2008, the Pittsburgh Planning Commission approved the project, after it had been reduced to seven stories. The development had been delayed by neighborhood groups and residents who had objected to the building's size.

Financial support for the project includes a $15 million investment by a group of Chinese investors, under the federal Immigrant Investor Program, called EB-5, according to Lily Liqi Pietryka, managing director of Pittsburgh Regional Investment Center in Oakland, which finds foreigners for the program.

Sam Spatter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7843 or sspatter@tribweb.com.

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