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March 3, 2016

Pitt buys former Syria Mosque site

Pitt trustees have approved the purchase of the former site of the Syria Mosque, a 2.1-acre parcel currently used as a UPMC parking lot.

The Board of Trustees property and facilities committee on Feb. 24 approved the $10 million purchase, which will be funded through the University’s property acquisitions account.

The board’s budget committee followed on Feb. 25 by approving the acquisition as an addition to the University’s fiscal year 2016 capital budget.

Arthur G. Ramicone, senior vice chancellor and chief financial officer, told the budget committee that the transaction is expected to be finalized “in the next month or so,” after the University completes its due diligence.

County property records indicate the current owner, Presbyterian University Health System Inc., purchased the parcel for $10 million in 1991. Demolition of the Syria Mosque, a popular performance venue, began in August of that year.

University officials said Pitt has no immediate plans for the property but acquired the site as a strategic purchase, given its location at the center of the Pittsburgh campus.

The site is situated just north of Fifth Avenue, between Bigelow Boulevard and Lytton Avenue. It is adjacent to the Pittsburgh Athletic Association lot slated for a hotel development.

In a statement, Ramicone said: “The University continually monitors the local real estate market for strategic opportunities to acquire buildings or land that are in close proximity to any of its University campuses and suitable to support and advance the University’s mission. Opportunities such as this, to acquire property of this nature in Oakland, are extremely scarce.”

He added: “Given its location, the property could potentially support a number of different uses including, among others, the creation of innovative space to support new collaborations among faculty, students and partners inside or outside the region.”

The site is part of an educational/medical institution (EMI) district, a zoning designation that is intended to accommodate educational and medical institutional uses while minimizing adverse impacts that can occur when such uses are located near neighborhoods.

Property in an EMI district must be developed within the framework of an institutional master plan (IMP), which, according to the city zoning code, “is intended to permit flexibility for a large institution which is not possible on a lot-by-lot basis, while providing a level of understanding to the public and the community about the potential growth of institutions and the resultant impacts.”

IMPs must include descriptions of an institution’s 10-year and 25-year development plans. The University’s IMP most recently was updated in 2010. (See Feb. 4, 2010, University Times.)

Eli Shorak, associate vice chancellor for business, told the University Times that the acquisition of the Bigelow Boulevard site will be reflected in Pitt’s next IMP, a draft of which is expected to be presented to city planners later this year.

Development of a facilities master plan, which will provide some direction for a new IMP, is underway as part of the University’s strategic planning process. (See Feb. 4 University Times.)

Pitt’s current and previous master plans are posted at

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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