On a sunny late-September morning, Rick Schweikert stands on the sidewalk outside the five-story building he co-owns on Fifth Avenue, in the Downtown end of Uptown. The building is among those the Sports & Exhibition Authority recently agreed to purchase in order to demolish them to make way for a new hockey arena. A young woman representing the SEA is here to coordinate an inspection of some of the buildings by an asbestos contractor, a gray-haired man with large spectacles and a jaunty manner.
Schweikert's tenants are artists, including, until recently, the band Rusted Root. A small group of investors had purchased the former children's-clothing and toy store in 1998 and renamed it the Sage Building, for Schweikert's daughter. It is the second artists'-studio property Schweikert co-owns to be rear-ended this year by a big institution's development plans. But the Art Institute of Pittsburgh's conversion of a Second Avenue building into student housing merely persuaded Schweikert to evict the rock bands in his adjacent seven-story warehouse [see "Space Invaders," Aug. 23, 2006, City Paper], thus avoiding conflicts over noise. Here, Schweikert is irked that the SEA threatened to use eminent domain to take the Fifth Avenue properties -- his and nine others -- if the owners wouldn't negotiate a sale.
"In lieu of condemnation" was the wording the SEA employed in its initial letter seeking to purchase the building; it's also the name of the building-closing party Schweikert -- a playwright as well as a real-estate agent -- and his tenants will throw Nov. 4, featuring visual art, DJs and live music.
Schweikert admits the asbestos inspector into the building's cavernous storefront, then takes a visitor to meet remaining tenants. The spaces are high-ceilinged, with massive, exposed oaken beams, pine floors and bare brick walls. Greg Baldus' Standard Robot Company fabricates machines for Carnegie Mellon and other clients. Baldus shares space with his wife, sculptor and installation artist Leslie Clague. Baldus, Clague and two other tenants will relocate to Schweikert's Second Avenue building. In the tall front windows facing Fifth, Clague has hung strings of discarded CDs, which reflect the daylight. "I want people to be aware of [the building] for what little time is left," she says.
Not all Schweikert's neighbors seem upset about leaving. Julian Elbling sold a building that had been in his family since 1927; his clothing store, J & B Sales, will simply cross Fifth. "This should have been done 20 years ago," Elbling says of planned redevelopment, including the arena and a proposed casino.
Schweikert decries a rash of demolitions in the neighborhood. "You look at all of Uptown, it's like a boxer getting his teeth knocked out," he says. Conversely, he says, new projects like the looming, five-story recreation center under construction by Duquesne University hold promise. "It was really starting to look up," he says.
Schweikert is rejoined by the asbestos contractor and regretfully tells of having to remove a homeless family who were living in the alley when he bought the building.
"Evict them!" says the contractor, chuckling. The SEA rep reappears; Schweikert is upset that the SEA didn't give 24 hours' notice for inspecting the studios. Schweikert asks how much longer they'll be. The contractor says he's going as fast as he can.
"I don't care about your speed," says Schweikert. "I just want you out."
In Lieu of Condemnation Sage Building closing party 5-10 p.m. Sat., Nov. 4. 1029 Fifth Ave., Uptown. $5 (benefits Hill House Center). email@example.com