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North Side property rehabs closer

| Friday, Nov. 11, 2011, 12:00 p.m.

Developers who want to revive a corner of Pittsburgh's North Side are moving forward with a portion of the development, while getting the properties at a deep discount.

The city's Urban Redevelopment Authority on Thursday agreed to sell the vacant Bradberry Building, Garden Theatre and Masonic Lodge to Allegheny City Development Group LLC, a venture of Zukin Realty of Philadelphia and Collaborative Ventures of Bethel Park, for $141,905.

In 2007, the URA bought the Garden Theatre, a former adult theater, for $1.1 million. It has spent more than $5 million since 1994 buying adjacent properties to help spur redevelopment in the area.

"We're excited," said Zukin president Wayne Zukin. "Getting people to step up and put their business on the line in a changing neighborhood is difficult, not to mention in this economic environment."

In May, the URA and the development group agreed on a purchase price of $250,000 for the buildings and about nine other adjacent vacant buildings. The latest agreement says the development group retains development rights on the rest of the properties.

Developers said yesterday they hoped work on the three buildings would spur additional interest in the remaining properties.

The group said it has letters of intent to open three restaurants -- including one in the Garden Theatre -- in the vacant block at Federal Street and West North Avenue. The company hopes to start construction in the spring.

No final leases have been signed.

Most of the former theater's auditorium will be demolished to make way for a 3,500-square-foot restaurant, with a patio, to be run by Spencer Warren, the former owner of the shuttered Firehouse Lounge in the Strip District. An additional 2,000 square feet of commercial or office space could be developed above the restaurant.

The front-runner for developing the Garden Theatre property had been the East End Food Co-op of East Liberty, which wanted to put a 10,000-square-foot grocery store in the theater.

Rob Baran, the co-op's general manager, said yesterday that a study showed the market could have worked, but "they (developers) needed to move fast, and we weren't ready to pull the trigger."

Mexican restaurant Round Corner Cantina in Lawrenceville also has a letter of intent for a 2,000-square-foot restaurant at 8 West North Ave. Nakama, in the South Side, wants to build a 5,000-square-foot restaurant in the Masonic Building, which would also include six to 10 two-story loft apartments, according to the developers. The Bradberry Building will house 16 one-bedroom apartments.

The URA also agreed to use tax increment funding -- which uses future taxes to finance a project -- to pay for $628,000 in repairs to two water-damaged buildings in the 1000 block of Federal Street. Zukin said they must be preserved for later development.

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