Developer plans to turn North Side's Allegheny Center into technology hub (Post Gazette)

Decades ago, Allegheny Center on the North Side was a mecca for retailers such as Zayre, Sears, and Woolworth. Now a New York developer wants to keep it a focal point but in a new Pittsburgh kind of way — as a hub for technology and innovation.

Faros Properties unveiled plans Thursday for a dramatic remake of the 1.2 million-square-foot complex — built in 1965 as an enclosed shopping mall but now mostly office space — calling it one of the largest redevelopment projects in the country.

“Take a look around you,” Faros managing partner Jeremy Leventhal urged those who gathered in the middle of the former mall for the announcement. “This is all about to change.”

Faros plans to turn the complex, to be renamed Nova Place, into a campus for high-tech companies. It also intends to establish a technology incubator designed to advance and promote the entrepreneurial community in Pittsburgh.

“In science, a nova is an explosion in a star that creates a bright light. We’re hoping that Nova Place becomes a beacon of innovation and a catalyst for entrepreneurship in this region,” Mr. Leventhal said.

The developer plans to spend more than $200 million on the renovations. Mr. Leventhal said the complex hasn’t seen significant investment since it was built half a century ago.

Work is to include upgraded offices, collaborative workspaces, restaurants and coffee shops, a fitness center, a conference center, improved common areas and entry points, and renovations to the outdoor plaza.

In unveiling the changes, Faros announced that Innovation Works, a nonprofit investor in Pittsburgh startup technology companies now based in the Pittsburgh Technology Center in South Oakland, has signed a lease to occupy 12,000 square feet in the complex.

Rich Lunak, Innovation Works president and CEO, said the firm expects to move into Allegheny Center next month and into its permanent space in the fall.

“This really has the potential of transforming this community,” he said of the vision for the tech hub.

Faros also is close to signing another undisclosed tech company tenant to take another 9,000 square feet, with an announcement expected within the next day or so.

Jeremy Kronman, an executive vice president for CBRE, which is marketing the space, said the North Side complex now is about 50 percent occupied. He said he hopes to increase that to 95 percent in the next 24 to 36 months.

In the past month, Mr. Kronman said, he has signed tenants to more than 50,000 square feet of new and expanded leases, including the deals with Innovation Works and the undisclosed firm.

The redevelopment, he added, will expand the office inventory available on the North Shore by more than 200 percent.

“It’s not just bulk office space. It’s the right kind of office space. This is what modern employee-centric, technology-based companies are looking for,” he said.

Faros already has had success in turning around the four-building, 800-unit Allegheny Center apartment complex it bought for $44.9 million in 2014 when it was about half full.

Since then, it has changed the name to Park View, made extensive renovations and boosted the occupancy to 100 percent with a waiting list.

“It is our plan to bring the same type of excitement and amenities to this office complex,” Mr. Leventhal said.

Mayor Bill Peduto, who described Allegheny Center as a “failed model of urbanism,” said one of the biggest changes will be the creation of a physical path through the building to connect the North Side with the North Shore and Downtown.

For decades, the massive complex served as a “wall that has basically kept them separated — things that have been happening Downtown from those that have been happening on the North Side.”

“And today, we’re here with a new vision, a vision of how we can take this failed model of the 1950s of trying to keep up with the suburbs and to create around it a new urban fabric” built around tech and innovation companies, he said.

Mr. Leventhal said Faros plans to get started on the renovations immediately. The size of this endeavor is daunting in and of itself. At 33 acres, including the apartment buildings and 2,700 parking spaces, the complex is larger than the 28-acre former Civic Arena site. The 1.2 million square feet involved is about triple the size of Bakery Square in Larimer.

Faros acquired a controlling interest in Allegheny Center in February at an undisclosed price. In addition to the center’s apartment complex, the firm also owns the Washington Plaza apartment complex in the lower Hill District and Carson Street Commons on the South Side.

Allegheny Center, after opening as a mall in 1965, fell on hard times as the years rolled by. By the mid-1990s, most of the mall’s 75 stores had left, paving the way for the conversion to office space.

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