Your recent story on Lawrence Hall ["What's keeping a proposed food hall in Lawrenceville from becoming a reality?"] has called upon me to respond.
I can completely identify with these three budding developers. After spending nearly $30,000 on installing street trees in 2015, I was notified that they were no longer an approved species and that I wouldn’t be able to open until I replaced the them with those on a brand-new City approved list. No joke. Four parking spaces? Wrong tree species. Who came to my aid? No one. The Abbey would absolutely not be opened today if I didn’t change the species of our sidewalk trees – and I put up a fight. I went to court and lost. It is beyond frustrating the mind-boggling hoops that every business has to navigate on a daily basis. It gets worse and more complicated with every legislative change in the City.
It was all worth it though. I have a devoted staff with some that have become close friends. They are mostly Lawrenceville residents and walk to work. We struggled every day with changing rules during covid and after all of that we are saddened that City Paper didn’t attempt to reach out for my recollection of the facts let alone a simple quote.
Because it has been years since I’ve had any involvement, I thought construction delays were perhaps Covid related. When I saw Lawrence Hall’s banner with the QR code, before reading their article I expected some type of issue over the City’s building permit process. This morning I took some time to search out old emails to jar my memory a bit.
Those inherently involved, from community leaders at Lawrenceville United and Development to Brett Minarik & Phoebe Fraser know that I have never been opposed to the Lawrence Food Hall. In fact, I attended a zoning hearing on July 19, 2018 in support of their concept. I told them that I admired their entrepreneurial spirit and welcomed them to the block. I did voice concerns of having a 185-seat restaurant with no parking and seven restaurants with no loading area or outdoor dumpster facility. My restaurant has 46 seats in our dining room and is required to have 11 parking spaces.
My concerns in 2018 were not over their success or competing with my business, but what would happen if they lost interest or failed? What would become of the property? What precedents would be in place with these exceptions that has now become my neighbor? I come from two decades of community development on Pittsburgh Northside and anyone in that field can tell you how many times a flashy developer would approach a marginal neighborhood with promises on saving a historic building. In the Fall of 2018, I cited 2009 East Carson Street in an email to community leaders. Here, a beautiful building that had great difficulty finding reuse in a hot area ended up being one of the biggest problem bars in the City, constantly on the news, because of similar issues. I can remember when Carson Street was filled with quaint family-owned restaurants, art galleries, and antique shops. Sound familiar? I don’t think many want a similar fate.
In the fall of 2018, Brett can tell you that I met with him and offered up ideas and suggestions that would not only negate the need for any variance but would make their concept and venue even stronger. Everyone has suggested that they excavate their basement. This would not only hit the goal of required parking but possibly offer larger walk-in coolers, private special event rooms, office space, storage or maybe rent extra parking to neighbors. It worked for Row House Cinema, Thunderbird, and even The Abbey. They already own this land and its virtually an entire 6000 sq foot floor that is filled with dirt. Not interested in this idea, I then suggested that they demolish the last 20 feet of the structure, and add at least one parking space for each tenant and better accommodate deliveries. At least if someone needed to run to the strip-district their car would be handy. Additionally, they could put a deck over this area and with outdoor seating not factoring into parking requirements they could regain some lost space and offer outdoor seating to guests.
Ultimately it is their prerogative to forge their destiny and is not my place to tell them what to do. I’m lost at what their QR code banner or this article is attempting to accomplish? In the end I believe they are wasting precious time and have lost focus. I like their concept. I hope that they find the right path to solve their problems and redirect their efforts to those that offer benefit. I wish them all the best.
All the best –
The Abbey on Butler Street