Ongoing growth touted for downtown

Posted on March 21, 2013

A completed Point State Park and riverfront trail. More than 2,000 apartments now in development. And a time frame for construction to begin at the 28-acre site of the former Civic Arena in the Lower Hill.

Those were just a few of the new developments to look forward to in Pittsburgh’s growing downtown as presented by a host of panelists at Tuesday morning’s annual meeting of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership.

In a meeting in which the PDP also presented its achievements and activities for the year and named new board members, Millcraft Investments principal Lucas Piatt made a point about downtown’s progress as well as Pittsburgh’s as a whole that would’ve hard to imagine anyone saying even five years ago.

Noting all the accolades and positive press Pittsburgh has received in recent years, Piatt said “I don’t think we need to brag about it anymore” at an event that largely seemed be dedicated to playing up the city’s strength and progress.

Piatt discussed his company’s two new projects to come:

  • The mixed-use Gardens project near Market Square, which he said will include a new Jacksons Social Bar & Grill, patterned after his company’s established restaurant in Southpointe.
  • A new development to replace the empty Saks Fifth Avenue store that will include apartments and parking.

Lisa Schroeder, president and CEO of Riverlife, a nonprofit that promotes the region’s riverfront development, described 2013 as the year of Point State Park. The long-awaited $42 million upgrade is expected to be completed by early summer.

Expect progress as well on connecting Point State Park with the riverfront trail along the Monongahela River as the final gaps in the bike trail are finished, connecting downtown Pittsburgh with the Great Allegheny Passage trail that extends all the way to Washington, D.C.

“The economic impact of cycling tourism has been unstoppable,” said Schroeder.

Travis Williams, chief operating officer for the Pittsburgh Penguins, expects the team’s redevelopment of the empty 28 acres where the Civic Arena once stood to begin to show real signs of progress. It will receive $15 million in state grant funding to start establishing new infrastructure at the property.

He said the team is working to have a master plan approved with the city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority, which owns the property, by the third quarter of this year, with the initial build out of a new street grid to begin next spring, and new vertical development to come in 2015.

Williams described a plan that remains mostly unchanged to include 1,100 residential units, mostly rental, 600,000 square feet of office space and 200,000 square feet of mostly neighborhood-serving retail and entertainment.

He did note the strength of a downtown residential and office market, both of which feature occupancy levels well above 90 percent, and suggested the team could add more residential units and office space, demand pending.

Look for residential development to be start first, he added, follow by office and retail.

“We’re still evaluating our long-term role,” said Williams on whether the team will serve as master developer for the entire site or work with others.

The meeting was attended by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, and a broad host of other business leaders and developers.

Tim Schooley, Pittsburgh Business Times.