A stretch of West North Avenue once noted mostly for winos sleeping in doorways and porno theater patrons will soon be known for several new restaurants and loft apartments with the commitment of $17 million in development scheduled to begin this summer.

The “Garden Block Renovation Project” announced at a Jan. 30 press conference, will renovate 10 buildings including the Masonic Hall and Garden Theater, creating new apartment, office retail and dining space as part of the ongoing Federal/North redevelopment project.

SOME CHANGES MADE—On both sides of Federal Street along North Avenue, the city is kicking renovation into high gear. Above, Crazy Mocha has already opened. (Photo by J.L. Martello.)

Joined by city council members, representatives from the Central Northside Neighborhood Council, Project Developer Wayne Zukin, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said the announcement marked “a great day for the Central North Side and the city.”

“When we talk about Pittsburgh’s Third Renaissance, we’re often in Downtown or in the East End. Today, we’re in yet another neighborhood that is seeing more jobs and economic opportunity thanks to the hard work of so many dedicated stakeholders,” he said.

One of the new stakeholders will be Nakama, the successful South Side Japanese hibachi and sushi restaurant, which announced it will open a second location in the Masonic Building.

Zukin, whose real estate development firm is based in Philadelphia, said the Nakama commitment was critical in getting the owners of two other restaurants to sign letters of intent.

The Firehouse Lounge is moving from the Strip District, and the Round Corner Cantina of Lawrenceville will open a second location on North Avenue. They will add to the development that has already seen the opening of the Deli on North, Crazy Mocha, and the construction of 12 new homes around the corner on Federal Street.

“Folks here in the neighborhood have been itching for this block’s renewal for decades, and we’re so excited that the Mayor helped us push through every hurdle and ultimately succeed,” said CNNC President Chris D’Addario. “There’s still more work to do, but I’m convinced that the momentum is so strong the sky’s the limit for this project.”

Zukin said the development plan for the 10 buildings involves saving as many of the facades as possible.

“We will restore and expand the existing storefronts along West North Avenue and Federal Street and fill them with retail operations that will serve the Central North Side and attract shoppers from the surrounding city neighborhoods,” he said. “We feel the site is also attractive to those from the regional suburbs due to the site’s interstate access and parking.”

Zukin said the several of the properties have already been stabilized but the real development gets underway with the first phase this summer. This includes renovating the Masonic Hall into 25 loft apartments above the 5,000 square-foot Nakama, and creating a 3,500 square-foot restaurant and bar space, with patio, on the ground floor of the Garden Theater building. New parking will also be created behind the Garden Theater.

Phase II involves creating a 1,800-2,100-square-foot restaurant and additional office space on the ground floor of 8 West North Avenue with eight loft-style apartments above. This phase will also include the renovation of 1113-1115 Federal Street into 3,000 feet of retail space toped by four apartments.

The final phase will see the demolition of 2 and 4 West North Avenue and 1107 Federal Street. The facade of 4 West North will be saved for new building of approximately 3,000 square feet with first floor retail and either apartments or office space above. The project is expected to create about 130 jobs.

“This is huge,” said Pittsburgh Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle. “$17 million in new apartments and three res­taurants, jobs. It’s big for the neighborhood and the city.”

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpitsburghcourier.com.)

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