OK, A Guy Walks into a Bank…

Maybe not a bank, but what is to become office space for one of the nation’s biggest banks that has several new structures around town. But let’s call it a bank.

So the guy finds out that the bank was once a department store that was part of a strategy to make a city’s downtown area a hub of retail activity by having not just that department store but at least four department stores, including a really new one. Through a complicated financial arrangement the agency in charge of redevelopment basically gave the parent company of the department store a gift of a loan because the terms of repayment were based on the store achieving sales activity that were well in excess of the norm for the company.

Then the guy learns that before the stylish old building was a department store it was a real genuine bank with architectural character and had to be completely gutted to accommodate the store. The store was around for five years and has sat vacant since then (one local real estate expert opined in 2003 "that’s not a corner you would want to have empty for long") although another developer bought it for $2.5 million in 2005 and hoped to do something with it.

As a kicker, the guy finds out that the new owner-the one that wants to make it back into offices for banking operations and have employees in it by 2013 or 2014-won’t "make any alterations to the building which would in any way affect its historical significance or exterior architecture", even though the building was made over for its department store debut.

So the guy says "wouldn’t it have been preferable to save the character of the building and spare the city from another intervention in the marketplace in the name of urban planning"?

Urban Planning Missed the Mark

The City development community is celebrating a big win today with the announcement that national retailer Target is going to set down roots in East Liberty after a seven year effort to lure the company began. There is a loan ($20 million) and a tax credit backed investment ($12.6 million) on top of $14 million in site development from U.S. Housing and Urban Development funds.

One official noted that "if we were able to stay on the short list during one of the world’s largest global recessions, I think that proves there’s a really good market in East Liberty".

What it might prove is that communities might be able to overcome the huge mistakes made by urban planners of decades past. East Liberty’s pedestrian mall was labeled as a prime example of "…Pittsburgh’s cockeyed urban planning" in a 2000 op-ed piece in the PG. Five years later when announcing plans for a pedestrian bridge near the development the head of the URA noted that the structure would go a long way toward "undoing 30 years of bad urban renewal".

Unfortunately there are no repercussions for bad urban planning or bad urban renewal, only vows to do better the next time.