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New arena could displace synagogue in Hill District

| Friday, April 20, 2007, 12:00 p.m.

The only synagogue that serves Downtown could be moving again to make way for a new arena, an official said Thursday.

The arena could be built around Beth Hamedrash Hagodol-Beth Jacob, but the city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority would prefer to relocate the synagogue to make more space, said Executive Director Mary Conturo.

"It would work much better, in terms of the loading dock and access to it, if the synagogue relocated," Conturo said. "Possibly we could design around it, but it's not preferable."

The SEA awarded a $10,000 contract to IMM Properties to help the congregation relocate.

The city's oldest Orthodox Jewish congregation has worshipped at the building on Colwell Street since 1963. The city's Urban Redevelopment Authority demolished the congregation's previous home on Washington Place to make way for Mellon Arena.

The synagogue has to be located close to Downtown hotels so visitors can walk there on the Sabbath. If the synagogue remains in place, it would lose its parking lot to the new arena, planned for a site between Centre and Fifth avenues.

Separately, the sports authority awarded contracts related to a $1.48 million asbestos removal project at the former St. Francis Hospital. The agency doesn't yet have money to buy the building, which is needed for the arena, but has permission from Lemieux Development LP to start work there.

Conturo said negotiations with the Penguins are progressing on a lease agreement for the arena.

St. Louis-based Isle of Capri Casinos, which wanted to build an Uptown slots parlor next to the new arena, has an option to buy the synagogue. The option expires May 6, but the gambling company can renew it for another year.

Isle of Capri has appealed state gambling regulators' decision to award Pittsburgh's slots license to Majestic Star Casino for a North Shore casino. The state Supreme Court plans to hear that appeal and one by Forest City Enterprises next month. Forest City wanted to put a casino at Station Square.

The synagogue's president, Ira Frank, declined to comment because of the agreement with Isle of Capri.

Rabbi Stanley Savage, who has lived in the temple's first-floor apartment 22 years, said he opposes moving the synagogue.

"They promised us once we got here we wouldn't have to move," Savage said. "What would be in a few years• We'd have to move again?"

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