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Heyl: Here's hoping dreary North Side monstrosity's demolition at hand

| Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015, 9:00 p.m.

The place deserves a date with the wrecking ball.

It's 1.2-million square feet of ugly. It's a classic example of mid-20th century avant gauche architecture, an uninviting building that looks more like a penitentiary than many actual penitentiaries — sans inmates scaling the barbed wire, of course.

The time has come to tear down Allegheny Center.

Will it happen? Who knows?

But a glimmer of hope that it might be razed emerged Thursday when its new owner refused to identify specific plans for the onetime shopping mall turned creepy office complex. The New York City-based Faros Properties would say only that it would attempt to determine the best use for the property.

The company's website indicates that it seeks to add value to its holdings through strategies that include redevelopment. The property it just acquired, which looks as tired as a marathon-running insomniac with an iron deficiency, would appear ripe for that particular strategy.

Along with the Civic Arena and Penn Circle in East Liberty, Allegheny Center was part of the holy trinity of Pittsburgh's questionable urban renewal experiments of the 1960s. More than 500 properties on 79 acres were cleared to make way for the mall, office and apartment buildings and dozens of townhouses.

With retailers that would be unrecognizable to today's youth, the mall enjoyed early success before descending into a slow death spiral. By the early 1990s, its conversion to office space had begun.

Today, the monolithic structure serves as a local version of the former Berlin Wall. It's the primary barrier preventing the North Shore and North Side from unifying.

The differences between the two areas are striking.

The North Shore is the place that's home to PNC Park, Heinz Field, trendy bars and restaurants, and new hotels and office buildings. It's a destination locale.

The North Side is the place where attempts to redevelop a single building, the long-closed Garden Theater, for years have stalled like a car with chronic intake issues. Upscale most of it isn't.

Faros isn't an altruistic operation and has no reason to help bridge the divide between the North Shore and the North Side unless it makes financial sense for the company. Circumstances suggest that soon could be the case.

Allegheny Center's largest tenant is PNC Financial Services Group, which is building a new Downtown headquarters slated to open this fall. When that occurs, PNC will have a 33-story building in which it has said it hopes to consolidate its local operations.

Might the likely loss of the center's primary tenant be the tipping point that convinces Faros it's time to demolish it and move in a different direction? The fact that plans for the building apparently aren't definite suggests the company at least will ponder the question.

A cleared site would be ideal for condominiums, apartment buildings and office space. Such development would eliminate the largest barrier between the North Shore and the North Side, but that can't happen while the Berlin Wall stands.

The center's day has passed. Ready the wrecking ball already.

Eric Heyl is a Trib Total Media staff writer. He can be reached at 412-320-7857 or

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