Crowd sparse at Pittsburgh hearing on $40M building purchase

August 3, 2018

Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Darlene Harris (second from left) voices opposition to the city's proposed $40 million purchase of a building at 420 Boulevard of the Allies during a public hearing in the City-County Building, Downtown, on July 30, 2018. Flanking Harris are Councilwoman Erika Strassburger and Council President Bruce Kraus. Council Clerk Brenda Pree was also in attendence.

Only one Pittsburgh resident showed up Monday for a public hearing on the city’s proposed purchase of a Downtown building for $40 million that would house several city offices along with the Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority and the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh.

City Council is scheduled to vote on the purchase Tuesday and called for the hearing for public input before the vote.

At least three council members and city Controller Michael Lamb have voiced opposition, including Councilwomen Darlene Harris of Spring Hill and Deb Gross of Highland Park, both of whom attended the hearing along with Lamb. Gross said the process of approving the sale has moved too quickly.

“This entire process did not have enough time built in for the public to examine this question, to think about this question, to express support or opposition to this question,” Gross said. “That no one has had a chance to even find out about it and come down here is a fundamental problem. I think the timeline is all wrong.”

Under the proposal, the city, URA and housing authority would jointly purchase the building at 420 Boulevard of the Allies owned by Chicago-based M&J Wilkow and move offices there from their current location at 200 Ross Street. They would also share the costs of repaying $40 million in bonds. The city intends to sell the building at 200 Ross Street.

“We the citizens have not had a chance to say anything about how we want it done,” said Yvonne F. Brown of the Hill District, the only member of the public at the hearing. “That building (200 Ross) I think could be refurbished.”

Harris, Gross and Lamb questioned the cost of purchasing the building as opposed to renovating 200 Ross and the speed at which city officials are moving to close a sale. Council first learned of the purchase two weeks ago.

Officials have said it would cost $39 million to renovate the building so it meets the city fire safety code and upgrade chronically malfunctioning heating and cooling systems, among other problems. M&J Wilkow required the public agencies to approve the sale by Aug. 1, according to URA Executive Director Robert Rubinstein.

Harris said the the city could use the $40 million for capital improvements, including landslide remediation and affordable housing. Gross and Lamb said the sale might be a good deal for the city, but they and the public have not been given enough time to thoroughly consider all pros and cons.

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