|By Mark Belko, Pittsburgh
Post-GazetteMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Feb. 20, 2013--A North Hills developer may have the remedy for the ever-so-tight office market in Oakland, where vacancies are nearly nonexistent.
Through a representative, developer Louis Molnar outlined plans Tuesday for the construction of three new office buildings and a hotel on a triangular patch of land between Fifth and Forbes avenues near Craft Avenue in Oakland.
The office buildings would mark a new phase in the development of the Oakland Portal project, which already has produced a 47-unit apartment building on Fifth Avenue near Robinson Street.
Mr. Molnar is proposing to build the office complex on the opposite side of Fifth on land that also fronts Forbes Avenue near the Boulevard of the Allies.
Felix A. Cardella III, president of TKA Architects, told city planning commission members Tuesday that the developer would like to break ground on the first office building this summer, one predominantly glass, eight stories high with 192,942 square feet of space, and parking for 274 cars, much of it underground.
That would be followed by two additional structures -- a 184,724-square-foot, eight-story building with parking for 215 cars and a combined five-story, 130,710-square-foot office structure with a seven-story, 124-room hotel built on top of it, with parking for 273 cars.
Mr. Cardella said the developer hopes to have the second building under construction next year and the other ready for construction in 2015.
"He's committed to the whole project. He's committed to going forward with all three," he said.
The work couldn't come at a better time for Oakland, where office space is even scarcer than parking. The CBRE real estate firm reported an office vacancy rate of 1.3 percent in Oakland in the 2012 fourth quarter, while CoStar placed it at 1.1 percent.
"It would be hard to accommodate a large scale tenant at this point," said Georgia Petropoulos Muir, executive director of the Oakland Business Improvement District.
Neither she nor Wanda Wilson, executive director of Oakland Planning and Development Corp., could remember the last time such a large-scale office building not affiliated with a university or a hospital was built in the heart of the Oakland Fifth-Forbes corridor.
"It's a gateway into the neighborhood so it's a really important development site," Ms. Wilson said. "I think the developer realizes that and is working to use good materials and have a high quality building."
The developer hopes to have the first office building completed by the fall of 2014 and is talking to several potential tenants about leasing space in it, Mr. Cardella said. He has received "decent interest" in the site, in part because of its location right off the parkway. Ideally, it would be a campus for one corporation, Mr. Cardella said.
The first office building has an estimated cost of $23 million, which includes the construction of a driveway that will wind through the campus and connect to Forbes and Fifth avenues. The first building will have office penthouses on the top floors, a cafe, and a dining terrace with views of the Monongahela River and the South Side.
Mr. Molnar also is planning a series of traffic improvements as part of the development, including a new traffic light at Fifth and Robinson Street. He also hopes to start construction of a 64-unit apartment building adjacent to the current apartment complex this year.
Planning commission members will hold a public hearing and vote on the office project in two weeks.
Some members expressed concern Tuesday about the size of the first building and the blue glass that will be used for the facade. Page Thomas said the building will look like a "wall of glass" from the South Side. "The building is bigger than your images give it credence for," he said.
He and member John Valentine added that the blue glass could blend with the sky and cause problems for birds trying to navigate around it.
"It would just bother me if birds were flying into that building," Mr. Valentine said.
Ms. Wilson said her organization has been working with residents near the area to understand the project and its potential impacts and has arranged meetings for them with the developer and the architect.
Mark Belko: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1262.
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