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Allegheny

Pittsburgh considers moving city departments out of Civic Building

Bob Bauder
| Thursday, July 12, 2018, 7:03 p.m.

Pittsburgh is considering a proposal to move the Urban Redevelopment Authority, Housing Authority and several key city departments from a Downtown location they’ve occupied for 66 years into a historic building on the Boulevard of the Allies.

The deal would include spending $38 million to buy a building at 420 Boulevard of the Allies that most recently housed the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and moving the city departments there from the John P. Robin Civic Building at 200 Ross St.

It is subject to approval of the URA, Housing Authority and Pittsburgh City Council, which jointly own the Ross Street property. The URA has scheduled a special meeting for Monday to consider the purchase.

“All three parties believe that buying this building controls our future, controls our costs on a long-term basis and is an opportunity not only to enhance customer service to the public, but to enhance the work quality of the employees that work in this building,” said URA Executive Director Robert Rubinstein.

The Mayor’s Office said Thursday that a move could come as early as next year.

The building on the Boulevard of the Allies is owned by Chicago-based M&J Wilkow, which could not be reached for comment.

Rubinstein said city and authority officials have discussed moving for more than a decade because of numerous problems at the Civic Building such as malfunctioning elevators and heating and cooling systems and a lack of sprinklers. The building dating to 1907 was the former headquarters of J&L Steel.

“For starters, it’s not code compliant,” Rubinstein said. “There’s one stairwell, we have a sprinkler system that’s nonexistent, we have windows that don’t open, we have HVAC units that don’t work on virtually every single floor, we have pipes that burst year-round that flood water and plaster on people’s desks.”

It would cost $39.2 million to completely renovate the Ross Street building compared to the $38 million cost of buying and retrofitting the Wilkow building for city offices, according to the Mayor’s Office.

Wilkow recently finished renovating the 177,500-square-foot building on the Boulevard of the Allies, which offers more space than the 103,000-square-foot Civic Building. It also offers a central location with access to public transportation and a city-owned parking garage across the street, Rubinstein said. The Art Institute left the building in 2016 when it moved to the Strip District.

The Mayor’s Office said it could accommodate the two authorities, plus city offices including the departments of Public Works, Permits Licenses and Inspections, Planning and Zoning, and Mobility and Infrastructure. There could be space left over to lease to private tenants, the office said.

The Department of Public Works is located in the City-County Building. About 300 employees work in the other offices at the Civic Building.

Rubinstein said the city would solicit bids to sell the Civic Building if the deal to buy the building on the Boulevard of the Allies is approved. He estimated that could happen in six months. Rubinstein said there are no current offers to buy the Ross Street building.

The city in 2011 considered a $1 million sale to PMC Property Group Inc. of Philadelphia, but the deal fell through.

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, bbauder@tribweb.com or via Twitter @bobbauder.

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