Development of the North Side’s Garden Theater block has been waylaid and delayed for years but last week the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh (URA) chose downtown’s TREK Development Group to take the lead on this project.
TREK plans to build 56 market-rate apartments and ground-level retail and restaurant space through a mix of both restoration and new construction. This downtown-based developer is “working with the community to include a 10-15% workforce component,” says William Gatti, president and CEO of TREK.
TREK teamed up with equity investor Q Development for the project.
“We really liked the team of Q Development and TREK,” says Robert Rubinstein, acting executive director of the URA, “due to their ability to finance the project with minimal to no subsidy and their track record of excellent relationships with the communities in which they invest.”
The Garden Theater was on track to reopen as a 4,500-square-foot restaurant called ARDE (Garden without the G and N). Restaurateur Domenic Branduzzi, owner of Piccolo Forno, pulled out of negotiations last month. The hope is that another restaurant will take the space—and that the recognizable marquee will remain.
Even as the future tenant of the Garden itself is again in question, things are looking up for this infamous theater whose illustrious first act began in 1914.
This neoclassical motion picture theater sat 1,000 and had a manager-turned-owner who worked at the Garden from the day it opened until he died in 1970. The theater was “the pride of his life,” according to the Historical American Buildings Survey.
Just three years later, Deep Throat was the headliner on the marquee—and thus began the Garden‘s second act as an adult theater. When the doors closed in 2007, it had the dubious distinction of being the city’s last porn theater. By this time, the block had deteriorated along with the Garden.
The URA bought all the properties on that block in 2007 for $1.1 million. Development was stalled due to infrastructure and financing complications. In 2013, the URA sold the Garden Theater to the Allegheny City Development Group.
And last week, with the entrance of TREK, the Garden Theater block began its third act.
Why TREK? Their track record with historical mixed-use restoration includes the following projects:
* Gold LEED status for their work on the Century Building, pictured left. This 1907 Cultural District building was renovated into 60 residential lofts and two floors of commercial space. This uber-green building earned the AIA of Pennsylvania’s Award of Excellence for Historic Preservation.
* In 2009, TREK’s work on Dinwiddie was a game changer for the Hill District. TREK purchased and dismantled Section 8 housing in the Hill District, and through a mix of new construction and rehab of the area’s historic brownstones, developed 72 townhouses and apartments for lower-income residents. This enlivened Dinwiddie, which is the corridor that connects the Hill District to Uptown.
* As part of the Dinwiddie project, TREK bought The Miller School, a closed elementary, and converted the auditorium and gymnasium into lofts with double height ceilings (up to 19’). Keeping architectural details, such as the auditorium moldings and gymnasium floors, was key in the restoration. TREK donated the remaining structure to a local nonprofit to establish a small business incubator, which NEXT wrote about in April of this year.
* The Overlook, pictured left, is an affordable and cool townhouse community built in 2011 on the site of UPMC Braddock Hospital. While the closing of the hospital rocked the community, this housing and commercial-use development—built after a series of public meetings, master plans and community input—helped to breathe life back into the neighborhood. A new construction commercial building will be anchored by the Allegheny Health Network Urgent Care Center, which opens in January 2015.
Now TREK will collaborate with City of Asylum. The nonprofit writer’s community on the North Side is updating their new home in the Masonic Hall through work with real estate consultant Craig Dunham of Dunham reGroup. Called Alphabet City, this literacy center will include a performance and workshop space, cafe, bookstore and apartments for visiting writers. While the Temple is currently owned by the URA, City of Asylum is considering a buy or rent option. Look for Alphabet City to open sometime in 2015.