UPDATED: Allegheny City CEO on dropped URA deal: ‘time ran out’

Updated August 29 with quotes from City of Asylum.

Yesterday, Pittsburgh’s Urban Redevelopment Authority terminated a deal with Philadelphia-based Allegheny City Development Group LLC to rebuild the Masonic Temple building in the North Side’s Garden Theater block.

The Pittsburgh Business Times, Post-Gazette, and Tribune-Review have stories about the scrapped deal.

“City of Asylum said they didn’t want to work with us anymore,” said Wayne Zukin, president of Zukin Realty, who also heads Allegheny City, told Post-Industrial this afternoon.

Zukin would not go into detail about why City of Asylum (COA) — a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit refuge for foreign national scribes — didn’t want to work with Allegheny City. “They knew the URA would work with them directly,” Zukin said.

Henry Reese, co-founder of City of Asylum, was reticent about getting into a tit-for-tat with Zukin over the agreement, but he said COA signed “three or four” agreements with Zukin. “We kept signing leases while he put his financing together,” Reese said.

“We’re doing our best to salvage this,” he continued. COA is in talks with URA to make sure Alphabet City can operate at the Masonic Temple.

“This has been going on a long time,” he said. “We need some certitude.”

Zukin stressed that he still owns the Garden Theater; the URA owns the rest of the North Side block.

Before the deal went awry, Zukin explained that Allegheny City had agreed to refurbish the Masonic Temple building and that COA would lease the building’s first floor. The rest of the building was slated for loft apartments. Zukin said he is being reimbursed by URA for work done, though Allegheny City hasn’t done any physical work to the Masonic Temple building — only work on architectural drawings, tax credit consultation, and legal fees. Zukin declined to say how much URA owes Allegheny City.

“We’d like to see the restaurant open by the end of the year. But it’s getting tight.”

Zukin simply said that “time ran out of time to put together a deal” though alluded to unspecified problems with COA that caused that delay.

“I’m still really positive about the rest of the project on the block,” he said. “I hope they are successful because that’s good for all of us.”

Reporting by Carmen Gentile, editing by Matt Stroud.

Imagine Pittsburgh: ‘actually a cool place to be now.’

This story reposted from USA Today with permission.

PITTSBURGH — Kevin Dowling says he can’t believe how cool this city has become.

After graduating years ago from college, Dowling recently returned to Pittsburgh to be the vice president of engineering at 4moms (www.4moms.com), creators of high-tech strollers and other baby accessories embedded with robotics and other patented innovations.

After years working in traditional tech hubs like San Francisco and Boston, he was lured back to Pittsburgh by a fledgling innovation industry nurtured by area universities, innovation incubators and venture capitalists.

“Coming back to Pittsburgh, I saw a healthy balance of finance, marketing and engineering (at 4moms)” said Dowling, who turned down a job offer with Google to lead the next generation of designs at the small company. “It’s actually a cool place to be now.”

Continue reading Imagine Pittsburgh: ‘actually a cool place to be now.’

When ‘Right-Sizing’ Vacant Properties Goes Wrong

In Clarksburg, West Virginia, a seemingly successful move to demolish disused buildings and free up land has landlords crying foul. 

At the end of May, a task force convened by the Obama administration suggested that Detroit needs to “right-size” its housing stock. That’s a phrase often used in reference to cities that have spent decades in the midst of population decline; in Detroit’s well-documented case, it was a city built for more than 1.8 million people that’s now home to about half that number. The task force suggested the city should tear down 40,000 properties left vacant in the exodus.

On its surface, this suggestion seemed like a no-brainer. “Blight is a cancer,” the task force’s leader told the New York Times. “Blight sucks the soul out of anyone who gets near it.” What other way could a city so deeply hurt by population loss rid its streets of vacant, abandoned, and potentially dangerous buildings? And if Detroit’s housing stock is really that bad, what could go wrong in a citywide demolition sweep?

The answer to the latter question can be found in Clarksburg, West Virginia.

Continue reading When ‘Right-Sizing’ Vacant Properties Goes Wrong

In Pittsburgh, a refuge for endangered writers

City of Asylum is a haven for foreign-born scribes who endured imprisonment, or worse, in their home countries

PITTSBURGH — Writer Yaghoub Yadali first ran afoul of Iran’s hard-line leadership for the depiction of an adulterous affair in his first novel, “The Rituals of Restlessness,” an alleged affront that landed him behind bars. An accomplished TV director as well as writer, Yadali was sentenced to a year in prison on charges of publishing subversive material, even though it had been approved by state censors years earlier.

Widespread protests by his colleagues and supporters following his 2007 detention prompted authorities to release him after 41 days. Freed, but still under constant harassment, he spent the next four years looking over his shoulder, wondering when he would be detained again.

“I was waiting to be arrested every day,” he says, recalling those dark days from the comfort of his new home in Pittsburgh, a seemingly unlikely refuge for an Iranian dissident artist.

Continue reading In Pittsburgh, a refuge for endangered writers