Come Fri., Aug. 26, there'll be one less spot Downtown to grab a cappuccino, strum a guitar or put on a play. Signs announcing the closure of La Prima Espresso, on Liberty Avenue, appeared on the café's storefront a little more than a week prior.
The coffeehouse and frequent performance venue leases the airy, exposed-brick space from the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, which has been working to build nightlife in the Cultural District. But the Trust's own lease on the three-story building is expiring, and it has not reached renewal terms with owner Henry P. Hoffstot Jr.
"It was fiscal," says Mark Fleming, the Trust's vice-president for marketing communications. However, Hoffstot, a retired attorney who co-owns the building with his niece, says he had sought to simply renew the existing lease, while the Trust wanted new terms he wouldn't specify.
La Prima's closure would leave homeless, at least temporarily, performance series including the monthly Cabaret Pittsburgh and the semi-monthly Calliope Night, both featuring local performers. Over the past year, La Prima has also hosted small theatrical productions of the sort that have trouble finding affordable venues.
"We were looking forward to having music there in our new season, starting in September," says Tricia Tanner, managing director of Calliope -- The Pittsburgh Folk Music Society. Two Calliope Nights were held in conjunction with District-wide Cultural Trust Gallery Crawl events. "It was a wonderful opportunity for local artists to play in a venue and get some exposure. That was just such a perfect location in the Cultural District to coordinate with other events going on."
Cabaret Pittsburgh co-founder Stephanie Riso, of Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre, said she will likely cancel the October and November cabarets -- although the series might have concluded with November's show anyway, because Riso is ending her tenure as PICT managing director.
La Prima has been located Downtown since 1992, and at its present location for 10 years, says owner Sam Patti; the closure won't affect his café or wholesale operations in the Strip District, or his vending operations on the Carnegie Mellon University campus. While he has no plans to relocate Downtown, he speaks well of the Trust. "They've been nice with me and very supportive of La Prima," says Patti.
"La Prima was an important part of the Cultural District," says Fleming. "We're sorry to see it go." But, he adds, "I believe there are plenty of venues within the district" to accommodate performances once housed at La Prima.
"I'm not looking backwards. We did some nice things there," says Patti. But, noting that the building's upper floors have remained vacant, he laments the general lack of activity in the Golden Triangle. "Maybe [the lost lease] is indicative of the fact that there's some kind of brain freeze Downtown."