City wants to relocate synagogue to build new arena
Friday, April 20, 2007
By Mark Belko, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The last remaining synagogue in the Hill District could be moving because of the construction of the new arena.
City-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority officials disclosed yesterday that they are seeking to relocate the Beth Hamedrash Hagadol-Beth Jacob synagogue on Colwell Street to clear the way for the $290 million arena.
The sports authority board authorized a contract of up to $10,000 with IMM Properties to help identify a new location Downtown for Beth Hamedrash Hagadol, which at one time was one of more than 23 synagogues in the Hill District.
Authority Executive Director Mary Conturo said it is possible to build around the synagogue but that's "not preferable."
"It's our anticipation that it would work much better in terms of loading dock and access if the synagogue were relocated. So we are working with them to see if that's possible," she said.
The congregation is in its 134th year. The synagogue initially was located on Washington Street, one block up from Fifth Avenue. In 1963, Beth Hamedrash Hagadol merged with congregation Beth Jacob and built the current synagogue. There are now 50 to 60 members.
Rabbi Stanley J. Savage said he had heard nothing about a possible relocation.
"I just think it's a shame that the last of 23 synagogues can't stay here," he said.
The authority is removing three buildings on the nearby Epiphany Church campus to clear a path for the arena, but the church itself is staying. Rabbi Savage said he had hoped the synagogue could stay as well.
If an agreement can be reached, the authority would pay to acquire the property and to relocate the synagogue.
Congregation President Ira Frank and attorney Harvey Robins declined comment, citing an option agreement Isle of Capri Casinos Inc. currently has with the synagogue for the property.
Isle of Capri got the option on the property as part of its bid for the Pittsburgh casino, which was to be built adjacent to the new arena. The option is expected to expire next month.
Isle of Capri ended up losing to Detroit businessman Don Barden for the state-issued license for the casino. The award is under appeal to the state Supreme Court.
Isle of Capri declined comment on the option agreement yesterday.
In another arena-related development, the authority board ratified a temporary license agreement with the Penguins to allow for access to the team-owned former St. Francis Central Hospital building to remove asbestos.
Ms. Conturo said contractor Abmech Inc. began working in the building this week.
The board authorized a $1.48 million contract with Abmech last month to remove asbestos. It will have 105 days to complete the work. The hospital demolition will follow.
The authority needs about half of the property for the arena, whose construction is expected to begin this fall and be completed in late 2009. Under the deal with the Penguins to build the new arena, the authority will pay the team $8.5 million for the hospital property. The Penguins purchased the property for $8 million in 2000.