Development at Penn Plaza in Pittsburgh continues to generate controversy |

Development at Penn Plaza in Pittsburgh continues to generate controversy

Bob Bauder
Pennley Park South
A rendering of a planned $50 million office and retail complex on the site of the former Penn Plaza Apartments in East Liberty.

Controversy continues to dog a planned $50 million development on the site of the former Penn Plaza Apartments in East Liberty as Pittsburgh City Council prepares for a last vote necessary for construction to begin.

Council on Tuesday introduced legislation that would approve a land swap between the city and developer, Pennley Park South, to allow for the reconfiguration of Enright Parklet. The parklet borders the rear of the development parcel along Penn Avenue between South Negley and South Euclid avenues.

Council is set for a preliminary vote on Wednesday and a final vote is expected next week.

Pennley Park is planning a nine-story office and retail building in the first phase of construction, with a second phase in the works that will likely mirror the first.

Neighborhood groups including the Friendship Community Group, Enright Park Neighborhood Association and the Bloomfield-Garfield Corp. said they are worried that plans contain no written guarantee that a reconstructed Eva Street, bordering the park, would remain open to the public. Pennley Park will own the street if the land swap is approved.

The street will offer its only public access, according to Jennifer Haven, a member of the Friendship group.

“There is no agreement at all between the city and developer for how long and how often they can close that street,” she said.

City officials and Downtown attorney Jonathan Kamin, who represents Pennley Park, disagreed.

Kamin said the company has promised the city an easement guaranteeing public access along Eva from South Negley to Amber Street. He said plans also provide pedestrian and bicycle access from Euclair Way and South Euclid.

“We’re giving them access from Euclair Way and South Euclid where they had no access before,” he said, adding that a sidewalk along Eva would remain city-owned.

Haven said neighbors also want the city to expand an agreement that provides money for affordable housing in the immediate area to include Friendship and Garfield as promised. Tim McNulty, spokesman for Mayor Bill Peduto, said the administration will respond to questions about that during a council vote on Wednesday

A court settlement issued in 2017 that allowed the development to move ahead stipulated that 70 % of increased tax revenue after the project is completed would be split, with half going toward public infrastructure and the other half for improvements to Enright and affordable housing. The area eligible for housing funds is mainly in East Liberty.

“We have a lot of new immigrants, students and elderly people,” Haven said. “We want to have the ability to use that money. We’re worried that once you put high-end retail and office space in Pennley Park South that people will start taking low-end housing and flipping it.”

Former residents of Penn Plaza and community activists have staged numerous protests over the development, saying it will compound neighborhood gentrification and arguing for inclusion of affordable housing to replace apartments lost with the demolition of Penn Plaza. About 228 people lived in Penn Plaza in 2015, when LG Realty, parent company of Pennley Park South, notified residents it intended to close the complex.

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-564-3080, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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