Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Strip Warehouse Will Thaw into Apartments

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Strip Warehouse Will Thaw into Apartments

Article excerpt

Developers in and around Downtown have turned all sorts of buildings into apartments or condominiums -- a department store, old company headquarters, a one-time brewery, a five and dime, and a former cork factory, to name a few.

But a massive icebox? The Sampson Morris Group intends to give it a shot.

A representative for the Monroeville developer briefed the city planning commission Tuesday on a proposal to convert a former cold storage warehouse used for years by Robert Wholey & Co. into a 144- unit apartment complex.

"It's like a big freezer, literally," said Eric A. Booth, a principal in Desmone & Associates, the Lawrenceville architectural firm that is assisting on the project.

Sampson Morris purchased the 330,000-square-foot New Federal Cold Storage building, the one with the giant smiling fish on one side, for $2 million in November 2008 and has been trying to figure out what to do with it for five years.

It considered condominiums, offices, a hotel, parking, even demolishing it and starting new, but all were ruled out for one reason or another.

Dating to 1930, the windowless cold storage building at Penn Avenue and Smallman and 15th streets is built like a bomb shelter, with a 12-inch-thick concrete outer skin and a 16-inch-thick inner skin separated by a gap.

Sampson Morris intends to remove much -- but not all -- of the outer skin and punch holes in the inner skin to create balconies or patios for those living in the apartments.

While the developer plans to leave some of the faded signage on the building as a tribute to its past, the smiling fish that greets visitors coming into the Strip on Smallman won't survive the makeover, Mr. Booth said.

"The fish does have to go," he said. "The reason is that the fish is just basically a string of LED lights and that's really all it is. [There's] not actually a form to it. …

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