old Art Institute
The former Art Institute building on the Blvd. of the Allies will soon be home to the URA and other City offices.

On Tuesday, Pittsburgh City Council approved a multi-million dollar plan to consolidate the offices of several city services into one building.

The project, which was proposed by the Mayor’s Office earlier this month and approved by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) on July 16, will allow the city to purchase the former Art Institute building located at 420 Boulevard of the Allies.

After renovations, the building will become home to the URA, as well as a variety of city services such as the housing, zoning and planning committees. Overall, the project will cost around $38 million.

They are expected to move in by fall of next year.

The URA and several other city committees are currently housed in a 100-year-old building on Ross Street Downtown. Speaking to NEXTpittsburgh, Robert Rubinstein, executive director of the URA, said both city workers and public visitors must contend with a lack of space, bursting pipes and crumbling ceilings in the current location.

Anywho who has attended the monthly URA board meeting knows how crowded and overheated the building can be.

“We have the office that issues building permits but the building itself is not up to code,” Rubinstein said.

After remodeling, the new location on the Boulevard will be large enough to be a “one-stop shop” for city services, which will be a great convenience to the public.

“I’m pleased that URA will be staying together with our Civic Building partners to move to a healthier, more energy-efficient and collaborative space to better serve the residents and business owners of Pittsburgh,” said Rubinstein following the City Council vote.

The price tag raised eyebrows in some corners. Citing the high cost and what he called a lack of transparency in the planning process, City Controller Michael Lamb had urged Pittsburgh City Council to block plans to purchase the new office space.

While Lamb said that similarly sized spaces are available outside of Downtown Pittsburgh for much less cost, Rubinstein countered that they want to make services accessible to people so they don’t have to take two buses to get there.

As for transparency, “The purchase is obviously transparent, as it is going through multiple public hearings and meetings, and public votes by the three separate bodies looking to share the costs of the purchase: the City, the URA and the Housing Authority,” said Tim McNulty, communications director for the Mayor’s Office.

“The URA engaged the commercial real estate firm CBRE to study locations and found 420 Boulevard of the Allies to be the best option,” he said.

Bill O'Toole

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.