After more than a decade of false starts, TREK Development Group and Q Development are trying to give the North Side’s Garden Theater block a new lease on life.

Last week, the two real estate development companies unveiled their latest proposal for the site on West North Avenue, overlooking Allegheny Commons Park. This time the plans are for a downsized, five-story, 51,000-square-foot mixed-use project next to the historic movie house, which the two companies also own.

Speaking to NEXTpittsburgh, John Ginocchi, executive vice president of TREK, says the 50 apartments will sit above ground-level retail along West North Avenue and Federal Street.

While he stresses that their plans are still preliminary, the building is slated to include amenities such as a fitness center, a public garden and “some kind of shared, rooftop deck.”

Rendering courtesy of TREK Development Group.

Those and other decisions will only come after more meetings with the community and relevant city agencies. “We have a long process ahead of us,” he says, estimating that the planning will carry on for the next six months.

If all goes according to schedule, the project will break ground in spring 2020, followed by a 12- to 16-month construction period. The Pittsburgh-based firm PWWG Architecture + Urban Planning is working on the design.

While the companies would ideally open their apartments and the renovated Garden at the same time, Ginocchi says further interior work on the theater will only come after they’ve secured a tenant.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh (URA) first bought the Garden Theater and the surrounding buildings in 2007 with an eye toward making the block an anchor for a wider redevelopment.

Local restauranteur Domenic Branduzzi had planned to open a restaurant in the Garden Theater but dropped out of the project in early 2014.

A previous agreement with TREK and Q Development would have preserved the buildings within a larger eight-story structure. However, court challenges related to the proposed height of the project, filed by two North Side property owners, delayed the process until several of the necessary historic tax credits were no longer available.

While the Garden Theater has been protected by its official historic status, the other structures were demolished earlier this year.

Speaking at a URA meeting in March, then-Executive Director Robert Rubinstein called the destruction of the previous buildings, and the heritage they represent, “somewhat bittersweet.”

As he explained to a crowded room, restoring the rapidly deteriorating buildings was not economically feasible, by the board’s estimates. “We had to call it a day,” he said, “and move forward.”

Rendering courtesy of TREK Development Group.

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