The lobby of Kaufmann's Grand.

Pittsburgh native Jeffrey Soffer is buying the stalled Kaufmann’s Grand on Fifth Avenue project, and aims to keep much of the vision for redeveloping the former Downtown department store begun by Core Realty Inc., says Jay Fertig, a chief development officer for Soffer’s Fountainebleau Development.

When the Florida-based Fontainebleau takes control of the Kaufmann’s Grand property after the holidays, it will set to work securing an anchor retailer — likely Target — along with permits for an integral parking garage, a rooftop restaurant and 150 more apartments.

Jeffrey Soffer, son of Donald Soffer who co-founded Oxford Development, has not disclosed terms of the deal. Core had estimated its redevelopment would cost $100 million and had anticipated completing the project in early 2018.

Core developed about 150 apartments, almost all of which are occupied, and an Even Hotel, which recently opened at the location where Kaufmann’s operated from 1887 to 2006. Now, Fontainebleau Development is trying to lock in Target as the main tenant in 100,000 square feet of retail space and a Manhattan-based restaurant for the rooftop, Fertig says.

The firm’s plan for the 400-space garage is working its way through city approvals.

“It’s all in motion,” Fertig says. “The deal is close to finished. It’s a large project to get your arms around because it was mostly done. … We think the vision was great. It may need some retuning and rebranding, but the idea and mixed-use components we think are fantastic.”

The lobby of Kaufmann’s Grand. Images courtesy of Fountainebleau Development.
The lobby of Kaufmann’s Grand. Images courtesy of Fountainebleau Development.

Liz Hancock, a spokeswoman for Target, confirmed the company is exploring the possibility of a small-format store in Pittsburgh. Most of Target’s small-format stores are around 80,000 square feet.

“We are currently focused on new store growth with our small-format stores, which are located in dense urban and suburban neighborhoods, as well as near college campuses,” she says. “I can tell you we are evaluating opportunities to reach additional guests in Pittsburgh, but at this time, we’re not at a point where we can share any new store plans.”

Securing the store is a major step, Fertig says, since it will determine what other types of retailers might be added.

“We think that a Target store would be a game-changer for Downtown Pittsburgh,” he says. “I’ve not seen the smaller format — in Philadelphia they have a few — but they do have a grocery component.”

Making sure that tenants “work synergistically with one another” is important, Fertig says.

“Our idea is not to rush into it, by any means.” Discussions are also underway with a New York City restaurant group, though he would not divulge the name. The development already houses a Waffles, INCaffeinated breakfast restaurant.

Fontainebleau Development hopes to obtain permits for the garage within a month or two; the garage would serve residents, hotel guests and shoppers. It’s uncertain when an agreement might be reached on the store, but construction on the apartments will likely begin by late spring 2020.

Core’s work to redevelop the massive building — 1.2 million square feet total — was “spectacular,” Fertig says. “The lobby is spectacular, with onyx floors and huge slabs of marble.” The apartments are upscale, more of a “condominium finish.”

“What distinguishes these apartments from a lot of others in the city is the ceiling height on every floor is 12 feet or more, so they’re very dramatic to walk into — and the natural light,” says Jack Kessler, an attorney with Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney which represents Fontainebleau Development.

Soffer learned of the opportunity to acquire the building in late summer, Fertig says. He liked the idea because of his family ties to the city. Soffer had returned to Pittsburgh after college and built South Hills Village and Monroeville Malls for Don Mark Realty, a partnership co-founded by his father, Donald Soffer. The company was later renamed Oxford Development.

Another view of the lobby at Kaufmann’s Grand.
Another view of the lobby at Kaufmann’s Grand.

“He’s always looking to expand his footprint in high-growth cities, which Pittsburgh, as you know, is, and high-profile projects. It fits nicely in his portfolio,” adds Kessler.

Fontainebleau Development’s portfolio includes Fontainebleau Miami Beach, Hilton Nashville Downtown, Courtyard by Marriott Boston Downtown/North Station and JW Marriott Miami Turnberry Resort & Spa, among others.

City of Pittsburgh officials have been “most welcoming” of the new development team, Fertig says, “and, in turn, we will return that kindness. There’s a lot of pieces that are falling in place. It’s the end of the year and things always slow down a little bit, but this is very much in motion.”

When rebranding the project, the developer might change the name — though “Kaufmann’s” will remain a part of whatever brand is chosen.

“We want to restore the icon to what it was,” he says.

Sandra Tolliver

Sandra Tolliver is a freelance writer, editor and public relations professional in Upper St. Clair.