|By Mark Belko, Pittsburgh
Post-GazetteMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jan. 18, 2013--By this time, a grandiose $100 million hotel-condominium project on Mount Washington should have been close to checking in its first guests and welcoming its first residents.
Some five years after Sycamore Grandview Development unveiled the project, the four-acre site at the end of Grandview Avenue still sits empty. Sycamore has yet to break ground on One Grandview Avenue, a 20-story high-rise featuring a 163-room hotel and up to 58 condos perched on a cliff overlooking Downtown.
But this year could be different, says Beau Beemsterboer, Sycamore vice president.
Mr. Beemsterboer said Thursday he is close to an agreement with a development partner that could help to jump start the long-stalled project, which also would include a plaza, a scenic overlook, a two-story lounge and an observation deck. He would not name the potential partner but said it is one with experience developing hotels, condos and apartments.
Charles L. "Luke" Desmone, the Pittsburgh architect who is working with Mr. Beemsterboer on the project, said an agreement could be in place within 30 days.
At the same time, Mr. Beemsterboer said Sycamore may drop plans for the condos in favor of apartments. The condo market has not done well in recent years, forcing many developers to look at rentals instead.
"I'm not going to ignore what the banks are saying. I'm exploring it. That's a head change for me. I've got to get deeper into that. I don't know what those numbers look like yet," he said.
City planning commission members approved final land development plans for the high-rise back in June 2010. At the time, Sycamore hoped to break ground on the ambitious project in spring 2011 and have it finished this year.
But that hasn't happened. The hang-up has been money.
Mr. Beemsterboer said the market has been "terrible" and that he has been unable to secure financing on terms favorable to the project.
"This is a family thing," he said. "We're not into taking huge risks. We're not going to take some terrible debt package in a terrible lending market because our egos want a big building up there."
Mr. Beemsterboer said he is seeing evidence that the market is starting to turn around. That makes him more optimistic about starting in 2013. But if conditions don't improve to his liking, he may wait longer.
Mr. Desmone indicated that the potential partner may help on that front. "The expectation with this partner is that there will be no financing issues," he said.
While some aspects of the project could change depending on market demand or financing, Mr. Beemsterboer said he remains committed to developing an "iconic" building that will make the community proud. He added that if any changes are made, "I'm going to make sure that the community is behind us."
Jason Kambitsis, executive director of the Mount Washington Community Development Corp., said the agency remains "supportive of the project as it stands." He noted that any major changes would have to go back to the community for support.
However, Mr. Kambitsis did not see a problem switching from condos to apartments. "The big thing is the envelope of the building. It really wouldn't change," he said.
Despite the length of time it has taken to get the project going, Mr. Beemsterboer has been very straightforward in his dealings with the CDC and has been a good partner, Mr. Kambitsis said.
"There's no frustration. We definitely want to see it happen," he said.
Even though development of the high-rise has stalled, the developer did do Mount Washington residents a favor by demolishing the former Edge restaurant, a decrepit eyesore that was abandoned decades ago, in 2011 to clear the site for the hotel and condo project.
Mr. Beemsterboer said he is still committed to building the high-rise. He said he has turned down other development opportunities over the past few years to concentrate on One Grandview Avenue.
"I'm married to this piece of land," he said. "I'm not going to start another development until I get started on this one."
Mark Belko: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1262.
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