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What's in store for building? Try razing

| Friday, Dec. 9, 2011

To: Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl

Allegheny County Executive-elect Rich Fitzgerald

From: Heyl Innovative Strategies LLC

Re: Home improvement alternatives

Gentlemen,

You can't solve this problem with some spackle and a sander.

The jointly owned City-County Building -- which houses city hall, courtrooms and county offices -- needs expensive renovations far beyond the expertise of a weekend handyman.

The roof cap and structural beams that support it need to be replaced. The estimated cost of making those and other repairs necessary to keep chunks of the building from eventually becoming overly familiar with the fragile foreheads of passers-by below: $50 million.

Heyl Innovative Strategies has conducted a thorough review of city and county finances to determine if there is sufficient scratch to pay for this project. Our conclusion: No way, hombres.

To colloquially summarize your situation, you are up the creek. We are prepared to provide a much-needed paddle in the form of an innovative strategy that you probably haven't considered.

Tear down the sucker.

Seems radical, we know.

The building has been the seat of city government for nearly a century, and the statue of the late Mayor Richard Caliguiri out front would have to be relocated if the building is leveled.

But it once was inconceivable that the Civic Arena would be razed, and it's coming down. At least the arena provided people with enjoyable and entertaining experiences -- the same cannot be said of the mayor's office and city council chambers.

The city and county could profit handsomely by selling the block of prime Downtown real estate that the building occupies. A logical potential purchaser is PNC, when it builds another skyscraper in a few years to strengthen its stranglehold on the city skyline.

We have anticipated what likely would be your primary objection to demolishing a building that needs to be significantly upgraded just to be considered rundown: The building's existing 250,000 square feet cannot be conveniently and cost-effectively replaced.

With just a slight downsizing of accommodations, that's a big au contraire, fellas.

About 215,000 square feet can be recouped by purchasing two nearby Smithfield Street buildings -- the long-vacant Lord & Taylor department store and the soon-to-be-empty Saks Fifth Avenue.

The owner of the Saks building is trying to unload the property, while the Lord & Taylor building has been unoccupied since 2004. It's not unreasonable to believe both can be obtained at fire-sale prices and retrofitted for far less than the $50 million required to keep the City-County Building upright.

The Saks building could gain new life as Courts Fifth Avenue. You wouldn't even have to spring for a whole new sign.

County offices and city hall could move to the larger Lord & Taylor building. To keep the possibility of physical altercations between the mayor and his council adversaries to a minimum, their offices can be placed at opposite ends of the old department store.

Put council by the men's shoe department.

Base the mayor where the Maybelline makeup lady used to roam.

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