Pittsburgh Housing Agency Seeks Asbestos Assistance

The Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority may add a quarter million dollars to a $750,000 dollar grant from the state of Pennsylvania recently given to a local developer for the removal of asbestos from four Market Square buildings.
The original grant, made by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, was awarded to Millcraft Industries. Millcraft is a renovation company and real estate developer owned and operated by Jack Piatt and his son Lucas of Washington County. The Piatts will buy the four buildings from the URA for the negotiated price of $2.5 million, and invest $32 million in the construction of retail space, loft apartments and a new YMCA. According to the terms of the sale, the URA agreed to cover the costs of asbestos abatement from the aging structures. The Piatts agreed to pay a higher purchase price for the properties if the city government would agree to pay for the asbestos removal. The services of qualified asbestos contractors can be costly; Don Kortlandt, acting Director of the URA, was gratified that the state would help to cover the costs. One of the buildings is of particular historic interest.

The G.C. Murphy Building was once the site of a downtown retail “five & dime” store. The variety stores operated by the G.C. Murphy Company were icons of the period along with Woolworth’s and Kresge’s. The G.C. Murphy Company was taken over by Ames Department Stores, Inc., which in turn sold the division to the now-bankrupt J.G. McCrory chain. The G.C. Murphy Foundation is still in existence, however. The downtown Pittsburgh location was the flagship of the G.C. Murphy company, opening its doors in 1930. In those days, asbestos was used on almost everything as a fire retardant. It is a common problem in the renovation of older buildings. Piatt intends to build the loft apartments at the former retail store. Millcraft was named developer of the properties last year in May, 2006. The renovations are part of a larger redevelopment program, which was the idea of Pittsburgh mayor Bob O’Connor. The new mayor’s ambition has been to revitalize the decaying area of the city.