Pittsburgh Struggles to Keep Saks in Downtown

February 3, 2011
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An attempt to keep luxury department store Saks Fifth Avenue in Downtown Pittsburgh is underway. The upscale retailer is pushing Pittsburgh city officials and its landlord, Oliver-Smithfield Joint Venture, for help to overhaul the four-level building it’s occupied since 1977.

Saks, which still has about 18 months left on its lease, gave notice to its landlord that it might not renew its lease for the 513 Smithfield Street store because it doesn’t want to pay for renovations and upgrades that would cost $10 million. The city, through the Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), has said there is no free money available to help Saks pay for construction that would reconfigure the former W.T. Grant Co. discount store to follow the “template” of its New York flagship, which features designated boutique space for various designers on the first floor.

But, URA is interested in providing a low-interest loan—but only if Saks and Oliver-Smithfield Joint Venture agree to share in providing funds for the project. “Saks is an important business to our central business district, and we would be delighted if our business financing programs can play a role in keeping them here for the next 20 years,” said a URA spokesperson.

Gary Wilson, principal of Langholz Wilson Ellis, the commercial real estate agent who represents the landlord, hopes to get Saks, the landlord, and the city together to discuss a proposal to make improvements to the store. In the meantime, Saks is evaluating a proposal it received from the landlord. “We are open to having a dialogue with all parties, but as of now we have not determined if we will be able to meet with them,” said Saks spokeswoman Julia Bentley.