Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Bringing "A Touch of Orient to the region": When Pittsburgh almost built an "Asia on the Allegheny."

From a February 20, 1989 Pittsburgh Press article.

In the mid- to late-1980s, Pittsburgh was entertaining plans to build an "Asian Trade Center" on the North Shore, part of a redevelopment effort that would soon bring the Andy Warhol Museum and the Carnegie Science Center to the area. Initial plans for the Asian Trade Center in 1985 were focused on Union Station, the former train station on Liberty Avenue now The Pennsylvanian apartments. By 1988 and 1989, the plan was to construct apartments, hotels, and Asian retail in the blocks between on what is now the site of the Morgan at North Shore Apartments.

An August 18, 1988 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article provides early details on the riverfront development, that included:
  • 300 aparment units to rent for $700-$900 a month.
  • A 100-room hotel.
  • An "Asian Trade Center" with 50,000 square feet of space for "high quality Oriental retail goods" and another 20,000 square feet of office space.

[Civic Development Council Director Tom] Cox said the goal is to create "a high-quality river front residential development.

He said the developers settled on the Asian theme because "we wanted to create a sense of place and a sense of identity that was unique."
. . .
He said some investors fro Hong Kong have made a commitment to the project. Also involved is Richard Lee, owner of four restaurants in Pittsburgh, including one on the North Side, Cox said.
An excerpt from a February 20, 1989 Pittsburgh Press article on the project's advances:
Plans for Asian center advance on North Side

A date for a ground breaking has not been set, but city officials and developers of a proposed Asian Retail Center on the North Shore agree on a general site plan.

Both sides are attempting to devise a parking solution before the final touches are put on the project, according to architect James D. Brown.

They are deciding just where on the site parking belongs.

Just two years ago, the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh began acquiring property between the Seventh and Ninth Street bridges. The organization began acquiring property between the Seventh and Ninth Street bridges. The organization thought housing would be the best project for those 8.8 acres.

But a group of investors had a different dream. They wanted to bring a touch of the Orient to this region, which is home to 8,000 Chinese-Americans.

They convinced URA a neighborhood consists of more than housing. Create a market within the neighborhood to give people a reason to live there, the developers said.

Since then, Oliver Tyrone Pulver Corp. of Pittsburgh and the North Side Civic Development Council, with architect Brown, have been negotiating the details of the project.

The $25 million project includes a 120-unit hotel with moderate room rates, 114 market-priced apartments facing across the Allegheny River to Downtown, and a retail center with four restaurants and specialty Asian shops.
An August 22, 1988 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial, "Asia on the Allegheny", called the project "a novel idea reminiscent of the highly successful Victorian theme at Station Square on the South Shore." The project was abandoned in October 1989 after what the URA chairman called "a failure to perform" on the part of Oliver Tyrone Pulver Corporation. From the Post-Gazette on October 13, 1989:
"The Asian Trade Center has died," said John P. Robin, Urban Redevelopment Authority board chairman.

Robin said the URA's intention all along had been to put housing on that river-front land and that he wanted to return to that idea.

"We departed from that [plan] to see if this Asian trade center would take form, but it didn't. It never came before us as a serious proposal. I think the demand for housing, in Downtown and near Downtown, is increasing."
. . .
The idea for the trade center came from Richard Lee, a local Asian restauranteur who formed a group of investors headed by Oliver Tyrone Pulver and about 10 investors fro Hong Kong. Lee's four Pittsburgh restaurants include Mr. Lee's North Garden on East Ohio Street on the North Side.

Lee said that, in spite of the URA's action yesterday, he still believed the project was a "very good idea" and that it was still alive.

He said he hoped the URA would give developers another six months to solidify financial support. "I am still trying to get more investors," he said.

"The whole thing is not easy," Lee said. "There are a lot of conditions we have to meet. If you try to please the URA, we are not pleasing the investors from Hong Kong. I had the investor two years ago and he was enthusiastic, but the URA took so long to go through the process, the investor backed out."

Mr. Lee died in 2000 at the age of 66.