Future of North Side’s Garden Theater still in question

PITTSBURGH — What’s next for the Garden Theater in Pittsburgh’s North Side neighborhood? It’s really the multi-million dollar question that’s getting closer to being answered.

“All together, we have about 4,400 square feet,” said SVN Three Rivers Commercial Advisors Senior Advisor Nathan Pazsint. “We often joke. It’s the Garden. What do you want to grow here? It’s a fertile ground for change.”

A huge project, years in the making, for Trek Development Group and Q Development.

“Over the last few years, they really made much more headway,” said Pazsint. “The original back of the theater was knocked down. You had the cinderblock wall put up with the wall of windows. You can see they opened up the interior.”

A blank canvas of sorts, with a rich history, sits on West North Avenue on the North Side.

“For a long time, this was a blight that people weren’t proud of,” said Pazsint. “It became a landmark that really people didn’t want to signify the North Side with.”

It opened in 1915 as a movie theater.

“We were kids when we went there,” said Beatrice Brown, long-time North Side resident.

“The first time I went there was in 1962,” said Clarence Walker.

Then in the 1970s, it became an adult theater with X-rated entertainment.

“Starting in the 1980s, there were these initial pushes to bring it back up and develop it so that it better served the community,” said Pazsint.

Nathan Pazsint with SVN Three Rivers Commercial Advisors says there’s interest, but no one has officially committed to giving the old theater a new purpose.

“What we’re looking for are things like restaurants that the entire community can access,” said Pazsint. “Market concepts that might provide more food to the general population of people in and around the neighborhood. And, of course, entertainment. The North Side always had a vibrant, powerful, passionate community in the arts. In any concept though that could come in that would help elevate that and bring that back to the community would be very welcomed.”

“And then in the two smaller spaces, we’re working with some of the art groups in Pittsburgh, The Warhol and some others to figure out how to put some popup spaces in these smaller 300-400 boutique storefront spaces to activate the front area of the Residence and the commercial side and kind of bring them together,” said Trek Development Asset Managment Michael Thayer.

Next door to the theater space the Residences @ The Garden recently opened. It’s made up of 74 residential units.

“It’s taken close to ten years to get this all the way across the finish line,” said Thayer. “They wanted to preserve the historic component of some parts of the Block, and they’ve done that through the Garden, commercial spaces and the Garden Theater Block area. And then on the residential side, we were really focused on bringing a good product that had the potential to be LEED certified with putting some very new to the marketplace, cross-laminated timbers (CLT) into the units across half of the units that meet green initiatives, that meet a carbon footprint reduction initiative and really gave it an esthetically pleasing look overall and a first for the Pittsburgh market.”

“There are big investments happening right now,” said Pazsint. “You have a major investment with the Warhol, which a lot of people don’t know is our number one destination when people come to town. We are seeing interest from out of town. We’re seeing interest locally, and we have many things starting to open up in around the area, including Piatt’s project the Esplanade over on Chateau. You have these North Shore investments, and we have many small entrepreneurs that are working on projects right on East Ohio in the surrounding area.”

Pazsint says he knows of five new businesses on East Ohio Street that will be opening their doors next year. And the hope is that the progress throughout the rest of the neighborhood will have a ripple effect.

“I’ve watched this neighborhood over the decades, and I’ve watched how Pittsburgh has kind of treated it,” said Pazsint. “More than anything I’m very excited to see that we’re finally getting to a period where people are really embracing it. They’re seeing what it’s potential is and what it always had.”

On Thursday evening, SVN opened the doors of the Garden Theater space to dozens of brokers. The Residences @ The Garden also had a grand opening celebration.

Download the FREE WPXI News app for breaking news alerts.

Follow Channel 11 News on Facebook and Twitter. | Watch WPXI NOW