Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Former Allegheny Center Mall successful with offices

By Sam Spatter

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The former Allegheny Center Mall is finding more success since its reincarnation as an office complex.

PNC Financial Services Inc., Bank of America and AT&T offices fill space in the 45-year-old North Side building that once featured major retailers Sears, Woolworth's and Zayres.

The mall is being marketed as the Allegheny Center Office Concourse. One retail business remains, a restaurant called Eco Bistro that PNC created for its employees and recently opened to the public.

Alcoa Properties Inc. developed the $65 million Allegheny Center Mall and nearby office and residential buildings after demolishing 518 structures. The mall at one point had 75 retailers but business dwindled, and most of the stores were gone by the mid-1990s.

Mark Fatla, executive director of the North Side Leadership Conference, said it was the automobile that doomed the retail mall because "within 10 minutes, North Siders can reach major retailers along McKnight Road."

Now, "the conversion to offices makes economic sense."

The former mall is about 75 percent occupied, renovations are planned and tenants are being sought for empty space such as the 60,000 square feet that Equitable Gas Co. vacated a year ago. Allegheny Center Associates, a California-based partnership, owns the mall and adjacent office buildings known as One Allegheny Square and Two Allegheny Center.

Together, more than 1,000 people work in the three buildings, said Jeremy Kronman, executive vice president of CB Richard Ellis/Pittsburgh, leasing agent for the buildings. Altogether, 700,000 square feet of the 1.2 million square feet of space is occupied.

More than 30 office tenants are in the three buildings. PNC's mortgage services operation occupies 320,000 square feet in the office concourse, comparable to other major bank operations centers in Pittsburgh. The two smaller buildings compare in size to newer office centers along the North Shore and in the SouthSide Works complex, he said.

"Allegheny Center Mall never succeeded because (developers) were misguided in their original planning and goals," said Arthur P. Ziegler Jr., president of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation.

The center's design wasn't inviting to visitors and shoppers, Ziegler said, and there were almost no pedestrian entrances.

Also, the 3,000-space parking garage under the mall was confusing to motorists, who could park for free at suburban shopping centers, he said.

Kevin Krasne, the center's director of leasing, is marketing vacant space at the office concourse, One Allegheny Square and Two Allegheny Center.

One of the last retail tenants, a shoe repair shop just outside the former mall, closed in April when the lease ended. But there's a new attraction: the Eco Bistro that opened in June in the office concourse for about 700 PNC employees who work in Allegheny Center.

Workers at other companies asked about having meals in the restaurant, so PNC granted this and then recently opened it to the public, said Gary Saulson, the company's director of real estate.

Bank of America employees Randi Blake and John Romano carried their lunches, but now they're among the 500 to 550 people who eat at the Eco Bistro daily.

"It's a great place with great food and competitive prices," Romano said.

Parkhurst Dining, part of Eat 'n Park Hospitality Group of Homestead, operates the restaurant that not only features organic foods and locally grown products, but uses environmentally friendly maintenance methods.

PNC restaurants and cafes in other buildings — One PNC Plaza, U.S. Steel Tower and FirstSide Center, all Downtown, and the PNC loan center in the Strip District — will adopt the same operational steps, Saulson said.

Eco Bistro serves the employees of the PNC Financial Services office in the Allegheny Center Office Concourse on the North Side recently. The cafe is now open to the general public.

Photo by Justin Merriman/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review