Former Pittsburgh synagogue to become apartments, urban farm in $18.5M project

PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh leaders on Friday held a ceremonial groundbreaking at the Negley Avenue site of the former B’nai Israel Synagogue and School in Pittsburgh’s Garfield neighborhood.

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“We don’t normally do groundbreakings, but we thought this one was worth making an exception for,” said Dara Kovel, chief executive of Beacon Communities, which is heading the project. “This is a very exciting project and we are just at the beginning.”

The $18.5 million project to repurpose the building will transform the property into one of multi-use. The completed project will include 45 mixed-income apartments, an urban farm and a water-reclamation system.

“It’s really about redeveloping this massive campus in a way that repairs the earth, respects the resources and uses the least amount of energy to keep cool and light,” said Michael Polite, vice president of Beacon Communities.

The synagogue was built in 1923, and the building was named a historic landmark in 1979. It closed as a synagogue in 1995, and it most recently housed the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh Charter School.

The school building portion of the building will become the mixed-income housing space, which will be designed to use as little energy as possible. Solar panels will be installed on the roof.

The sanctuary – the massive stone rotunda – will become space called the Rotunda Collaborative that will serve the community, the developers said. The 10,000 square feet structure will be an “inclusive, flexible and dynamic multi-use space” with a focus on performing and visual arts.

Greg Flisram, executive director of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, noted the sheer size of the project.

“I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a project that checked all the boxes,” Flisram said. “It’s got affordable housing, it’s historic preservation, it’s adaptive reuse, it’s mixed use, it’s green, it’s a microgrid, it’s solar power.”