Rendering courtesy of LG Realty.

The start of a $50 million mixed-use project on the former Penn Plaza site, with Whole Foods as its anchor, will get moving in December after years of delays.

Pittsburgh City Council moved the project forward by voting yesterday to approve a land swap with Pennley Park South, allowing for reconfiguration of Enright Park on the site.

“We’re hoping to get shovels in the ground December 2019. Construction will be 18 to 24 months,” says Larry Gumberg, founder and president of LG Realty Advisors, Inc., the developer. “We’re very excited. This will be transformative for the East Liberty area, and the Garfield connection, and bring lots of jobs and taxes to the area.”

Whole Foods will move from its nearby Centre Avenue location to this spot on Penn Avenue, a much larger 50,000-square-foot space. The store will have its own dedicated parking structure.

“It will be laid out in a way that is exemplary of a flagship-style Whole Foods,” says Gumberg. “There are plenty of times where you just can’t get into the parking lot (on Centre Ave.). We paid particular attention to make sure there’s ample parking for Whole Foods.”

There will be a nine-story office tower above it, with 246,000 square feet of space on floors two through nine. And 4,600 square feet of additional retail space will be available for rent, in addition to the Whole Foods space. Office tenants will also have their own dedicated parking structure.

No tenants have yet been announced. But “there’s been a lot of interest,” Gumberg tells us.

The site has been mired in controversy for years. More than 200 tenants of the former Penn Plaza were told to leave in 2015 to make way for the development. It sparked multiple protests over gentrification and displacement in East Liberty.

The plan approved yesterday calls for 70 percent of increased tax revenue from the development to go toward public infrastructure and an affordable housing fund.

“We agreed to give half of that money to fund both $1 million for Enright Park, and the balance of that to go into an affordable housing trust fund — $3 million in just the first phase,” explains Gumberg. “That money that’s going into that trust fund will be used to fill the gap to build new affordable housing around the East Liberty area.”

A land swap also enables the construction of a new Enright Park on the site.

“The Pennley Park South land was U-shaped, with a park jutting into the middle of it,” says Gumberg. “The problem was that it somewhat restricted community residents getting to it. We worked out a plan with the city to swap some land owned by Pennley Park.”

According to the redevelopment plans, he says, “the park will be similar to the way it was before, but it will be accessible from all sides.”

Michael Machosky

Michael Machosky is a writer and journalist with 18 years of experience writing about everything from development news, food and film to art, travel, books and music. He lives in Greenfield with his wife, Shaunna, and 10-year old son.