Property Watch: Construction resumes at Centre Avenue research facility


Construction resumed April 7 at 5051 Centre Ave. in Bloomfield, a project being developed by Pitt and Wexford Science + Technology as a research facility.

All other construction projects on Pitt’s campuses — including work on Bigelow Boulevard, Scaife Hall and the Petersen Sports Complex — were halted on March 19 after Gov. Tom Wolf ordered all nonessential business to close. Though the list of what constitutes essential and nonessential businesses has changed some in the past three weeks, the order is still in effect.

For the 5051 Centre Ave. project, the state granted a waiver to Turner Construction Co., because the 246,000-square-foot project will be a health care facility when completed. In February, Robert Ferris, director of the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, said the new building will serve as an extension to the Shadyside center, where space is limited.

“This new facility will be really a wonderful addition and extension with our existing adjacent Hillman Cancer Center, but modernized according to how research is done in 2020,” Ferris said. “We're looking forward to the future of cancer research and hoping to continue leading that particularly in the area of cancer immunotherapy.”

Construction at the site is permitted to continue with appropriate social distancing and other precautions consistent with CDC guidelines. The eight-story historic building, once home to Ford Motor Company, is on track to open in fall 2021.

Wexford Science building on Forbes

The dispute over the Wexford Science + Technology building proposed for 3440 Forbes Ave. ended up in the Court of Common Pleas after the Pittsburgh Zoning Board of Adjustment in October rejected a variance sought by Wexford to build a 188-foot building at the corner of Forbes Avenue and Coltart Street.

The Oakland Planning and Development Corporation had opposed the height variance because of “potential negative impacts on the community.” But in a document published March 24 on its website, the group said it has tentatively agreed to a compromise, which would cap the building’s height at 153 feet and provide a money and other amenities through a Community Benefits Agreement.

The building’s height is above that allowed under zoning code. The question is by how much?

The original zoning hearing said the maximum height allowed was 85 feet, because of its proximity to a nearby residential area.

Wexford argued that it should be allowed to build higher because of comparable buildings next to it that range from 110 to 140 feet. It also would be allowed extra height in recognition of its LEED certification. It amended its proposal to 153 feet.

The zoning board said that one of the adjacent buildings, the Hilton Garden Inn, cannot be used as a comparable because its entrance faces McKee Place not Forbes Avenue.

In the document posted in March, the OPDC said “there is a significant chance that the court would reverse the (zoning board’s) decision and allow Wexford to construct the building at least 153 feet (if an agreement is not settled upon and the parties proceed with litigation). … If settlement cannot be reached, and the parties proceed to litigation, the (Community Benefits Agreement) would no longer be available.”

The agreement as it now stands includes:

  • Up-front cash payment of $400,000 to support community needs such as economic empowerment for low-wealth residents, youth programs, public space improvements, and neighborhood amenities

  • $100,000 to OPDC senior homeowner program

  • Annual contribution to support Oakland Community Land Trust of 20 cents per square foot of leasable space, equaling approximately $36,000 per year, with a commitment of 20 years.

  • Alleviate traffic and parking concerns through a Transportation Demand Management strategy — this includes encouraging/incentivizing the use of public transportation, bicycling, walking, ride sharing, car and van pooling, and supporting residential parking permit enforcement.

  • Complimentary community use of meeting space — recognized Oakland community groups can use the District Hall meeting space, up to four times per month.

“OPDC has weighed the risks (especially the very real risk of not receiving any community benefits if an agreement is not settled out of court), and believes accepting Wexford’s CBA is the most advantageous decision to receive the highest amount of benefits made available to the community,” the group’s statement said.

Because the final approval process has been delayed by the pandemic, OPDC is still seeking comment on the revised CBA through its feedback form.

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at or 412-648-4294.


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