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Pirates Things on the North Shore are developing

PNC Park has promising start as a catalyst

Sunday, April 15, 2001

By Tom Barnes, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Skeptics can be forgiven for doubts about whether shops, offices, taverns, restaurants and housing will actually spring up around the new baseball and football stadiums on the North Shore.

After all, the same kind of rosy predictions filled the air 30 years ago when Three Rivers Stadium opened amid a sea of asphalt parking lots. There was even a wooden model, which seems almost laughable now, showing a hotel, office buildings and other structures sprouting outside of the all-purpose concrete bowl.

But those hopes for development went awry when parking became the most profitable use of the land around the stadium.

The Clark Bar & Grill eventually opened in the nearby Clark Building, and the Carnegie Science Center was built in an outlying stadium parking lot but, for the most part, the need for parking triumphed over development.

City officials and private developers don't think that history will repeat itself regarding the 25 acres of vacant land between PNC Park and the Steelers' new stadium.

"The area around the stadiums has the potential to be an extension of the Downtown central business district," said Todd Reidbord of Walnut Capital Partners, which this fall plans to build a five-story office building and restaurant at General Robinson and Federal streets, just north of PNC Park.

The fact that the Clemente Bridge will be closed to traffic on game days and eventually lined with vendors and kiosks should increase the feeling of "connectedness" between the Golden Triangle and the ballpark, Reidbord said.

It's difficult to build new large buildings Downtown because almost all of the land is already occupied, he said.

The Lincoln Properties apartments and the new Alcoa headquarters, both near the Ninth Street Bridge, are good examples of the kind of upscale development that North Shore can attract, Reidbord said.

Keefe Ellis of Ellis Real Estate Co., a consultant to the city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority, said the city-county agency has worked to install new "infrastructure," such as water and sewer lines, roads and sidewalks in order to encourage private development on the North Shore.

The new roads, such as extensions of General Robinson and Martindale streets and a realignment of North Shore Drive, are dividing the land into smaller, more manageable parcels, he said . The new roads should be finished by late July.

Another enticement to private developers is the new $48 million North Shore Riverfront Park, which will take shape this summer on a 1.5-mile swath of Allegheny and Ohio riverfronts between the Fort Wayne railroad bridge and the West End Bridge.

The park, which will have tiered "water steps" leading down toward the shoreline, a new fishing pier in the river, places where boats can tie up and a brick walkway along the shore, is intended to bring visitors and tourists to the riverfront regardless of whether stadium events are scheduled.

If the ongoing renovation of buildings on Federal Street is any indication, the optimism that city officials have about development may be justified this time.

"I think people are getting excited about the North Shore," says one new entrepreneur. "They are seeing things happen with brick and mortar."

What's most significant about that statement is that it comes from a guy from Chicago -- Mike Canace, co-owner of Hi-Tops, a popular sports bar just outside of one of the great shrines of Major League Baseball, Wrigley Field.

Canace decided to open two new Hi-Tops sports bars this year, his first ventures outside the Windy City. One is on Federal Street and the other is near Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix.

Hi-Tops is leasing three storefront bays of a six-bay building at Federal and General Robinson streets, diagonally across the street from the Pirates' administration building outside of PNC Park.

He said that whenever the Pirates play the Cubs in Chicago, Pittsburgh fans crowd Hi-Tops, so he likes their attitude.

"Pittsburgh has hard-core, loyal sports fans. And they spend money," he said.

The building where Hi-Tops will be located was bought in 1998 by another guy from Chicago, Tim Fenner, a high school friend of Pirates' owner Kevin McClatchy.

Canace has been shooting to have his sports bar ready for fans headed to the regular season opener tomorrow , but if not the grand opening will be April 20 when the Cubs come for their first game at PNC Park, he said.

Two of the other three bays of the structure, whose addresses are 200-212 Federal, are also being leased by tavern/restaurants.

One is the new Castellano's Deli, which used to be located across Federal, on part of the land where the ballpark is now; the other is the Triangle Bar & Grill, which will be a satellite location of a longtime steelworkers' bar on Monongahela Avenue in Swissvale.

On the same three-block stretch of Federal are two other taverns that have been eagerly awaiting the opening of PNC Park -- Firewaters and the 222 Bar.

Firewaters has been closed in recent months because Federal Street has been torn up for repairs, making it nearly impossible to reach; the 222 Bar up the street has been doing a booming lunch business with construction workers.

And projects seem to be spreading. Directly north of PNC Park, on what for years has been a surface parking lot, is where Walnut Capital Partners will put its five-story office building. It's a joint venture with Alco Parking Co. President Merrill Stabile, who owns the parking lot.

The street level is to be a restaurant, as yet unidentified, with four floors of offices on top. The structure will be called the Diamond Pavilion, said Anthony Dolan, another partner in Walnut Capital.

On General Robinson, just east of PNC Park, a new 926-space parking garage being built by the Sports & Exhibition Authority is ready to open in mid-April. Alcoa plans to rent additional space in a new office building to be erected across the street from that garage. The street level of the garage is to have a couple of taverns or restaurants.

Real estate consultant Ellis said there is talk about a new hotel near PNC Park, either just west of the Diamond Pavilion or along a new street to be called Mazeroski Way, just west of PNC Park.

The latter location would give the new hotel a spectacular view of the Allegheny River and Downtown, noted Ellis, who helped the Sports & Exhibition Authority assemble land needed for both the new stadiums.

Another prominent aspect of North Shore development is an amphitheater that Steelers President Dan Rooney wants to build.

The outdoor facility, which would host concerts and could seat perhaps 5,000 people, would most likely be built along the riverfront, adjacent to the new football stadium, on part of the site where Three Rivers Stadium used to stand.

The Steelers' efforts have been concentrated on completing their new stadium by Aug. 1, so not much has been said about the amphitheater lately. But it could become a competitor for the kind of music events held at the I.C. Light Amphitheater across the river at Station Square.

Next: Ballpark with a winning attitude?

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