Phipps Conservatory presents proposition for site of former Irish Centre

Every few days, David Molina and his dog, Rudy, hit the trails in Squirrel Hill and Swisshelm Park.

“We run all over Frick a couple times a week,” Molina said.

They often pass by the former Irish Centre on Forward Avenue, where Craft Development Group has proposed building a multi-story condominium complex, a project that has faced mixed reaction from community members.

But now, there’s another option for the space, if Pittsburgh’s Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) decides to deny the four variances requested by Craft needed to advance their project. Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens sent a letter to the City of Pittsburgh, detailing its vision for the space: potentially, the future headquarters for its Homegrown program and growing plants and trees for their exhibits.

“I think it’s an excellent idea. It would go really well with the park and create a lot less traffic,” said Charlie Ferrin of Greenfield.

“Frick Park Friends is 100 percent behind the idea of Phipps Conservatory buying that parcel of land,” said Vicki Yann of Frick Park Friends, a group that formed in opposition to craft development’s plans for the property.

Yann said she appreciates Phipps wants to repurpose the Irish Centre building, a former social hall, instead of tearing it down.

“I think it’s a great way to maintain the history of that structure and then also be as ‘green’ as possible. They’re going to do as much LEED re-engineering as they possibly can,” Yann said.

Craft has until Sept. 14 to refute any arguments presented against their plans. The ZBA has 45 days from that date to make a final decision.

“I’m generally ambivalent about criticisms of new housing development, especially in a city where multi-use housing and affordable housing is certainly a priority,” Molina said. “I don’t know that it [Phipps property] will be accessible to the public, but it’ll certainly be embedded in a civic institution that we value as a community.”

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