Granite Building from Sixth Avenue.

“To make Pittsburgh a destination, to make it the next great American city, requires investment in projects like this,” said Kevin Acklin, chief of staff for Mayor Peduto at the announcement of a $2.5 million grant for the Granite Building on Friday. The historic and beautiful Granite Building at Sixth Avenue and Wood Street will soon be converted into a 90,000 square-foot boutique hotel with 104 rooms, three bars, and a brasserie-style restaurant with the aid of Pennsylvania’s Economic Growth Initiative (EGI).

Both Governor Tom Corbett and Acklin lauded the project as a model investment.

In announcing the state’s commitment of a $2.5 million state redevelopment assistance grant to the $38 million project, Governor Corbett says the Forbes Hotel—its working name—was selected as a funding recipient because of its potential to create financial and cultural returns as well as jobs.

“This is a smart investment and will spark economic growth in Pennsylvania,” he says. “It’s right in the center of everything. It’s a place where [visitors] from around the globe are going to come and see the diversity of Pittsburgh.”

The Economic Growth Initiative program is a Commonwealth grant administered by the Office of the Budget to facilitate regional economic, cultural, civic, and historical improvement projects. It was formerly known as the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program.

A rendering of the Forbes Hotel.
A rendering of the Forbes Hotel.

Built in 1889 as the German National Bank, the striking Granite Building is in the heart of downtown and will afford visitors easy access to the convention center, cultural district and three stadiums. An atrium and executive suites will add four more stories to the building’s existing eight. On the adjacent parcel, formerly home to an Arby’s, a “twin” will be built, thereby expanding the hotel’s floor plan. It will offer extended stay options to corporations to assist with executive recruitment.

When owner and developer Holly Brubach, former style editor of the New York Times, purchased the building in 2006, she prepared to renovate it for sale as individual condominiums. When the 2008 recession upended her plan, she reconsidered its ideal use.

“I looked at Pittsburgh as a cultural and consumer landscape and realized that what was missing was a great independent hotel,” says Brubach who as president of the Granite Building LLC will take the lead on the design.  She will work with  Tsao & McKown Architects, assisted by ThenDesign and Prospera Hospitality, natinoal hotel operators specializing in independent hotels and based in Carnegie.

Brubach intends for the Forbes Hotel to actively reflect the character of the city, envisioning it as a unique experience for out-of-towners as well as residents. She recalled that one local executive told her that boutique hotels are “for cool people, and cool people don’t come to Pittsburgh.”

Brubach, who has lived in New York, Paris and Milan, and returned to live in Pittsburgh, knew the opposite was true and is out to prove him wrong. Those who know her and her work are confident she will do it in style. “It will be way cool,” said one supporter.

“Our philosophy is different than a lot of hotels. We feel strongly that if this is a hotel about Pittsburgh it should be a hotel for Pittsburgh, says Brubach who plans on making the hotel a draw for residents as well with its bars and restaurant.

Breaking ground in April and slated to open spring 2016, the hotel is expected to revitalize the Wood St. corridor and generate $3.3 million in state taxes within its first year and over the course of five years contribute more than $6.1 million in net spending. The project will create 208 construction jobs and 69 full-time jobs.

Margaret J. Krauss is a writer, radio producer, and researcher. If not biking Pittsburgh's streets or swimming its rivers, she is likely geeking out about a really good story.