The historic Hunt Armory in Shadyside has been through a lot. It housed weapons and a unit of the Army National Guard, hosted home shows and polo matches, survived a fire in 2010 and a failed redevelopment attempt in 2016.
Those plans, for an Olympic-size ice rink and cafe, were sunk by lack of funding. In May, the Urban Redevelopment Authority requested new proposals that preserve the building and provide community recreation space.
The four options to be unveiled to the public Thursday evening lay out plans for an indoor beach, a skating pond and water feature, sports facility or ice rink.
While it’s important for any redevelopment plan to please the community, as well as preserve the more than 100-year-old Renaissance Revival-style building, it first has to make sense financially, said URA board treasurer Jim Ferlo.
“This building should be put back on the tax rolls, it should be owned and operated by the private sector,” he said. “I don’t think it should continue to linger on URA books.”
Ongoing budget woes at the state and federal levels makes reliance on tax credits look like a red flag, said Ferlo.
The armory stretches for more than 93,000 square feet over almost an entire city block. Repurposing it is a huge undertaking, said Pittsburgh City Councilman Dan Gilman.
“To have such a beautiful historic building in a great location with vast ceilings, there’s a really cool opportunity to do a once-in-a-generation project here," he said.
Gilman agreed financial sustainability is crucial, but doesn’t think it’s the discussion’s sole starting point.
“We need to look at what is the highest and best use from the property,” he said. “We will get down in the financials and they will play a critical role, but let’s first decide, what do we want? What is feasible? And then the question is how do we get there.”
The request for proposals mandated redevelopment be “primarily recreational,” which would restore one of the armory’s original uses. For many years it was the largest gathering space in the city, able to seat 10,000 people.
Gilman said he expects a developer to be selected by year’s end.