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The Business and Investment Guide to Downtown

From its post-industrial haze Pittsburgh has emerged as a beautiful and compelling city that continually surprises. Host of the 2006 Major League Baseball All Star Game, home of the Super Bowl champions and soon-to-be host to the National Trust’s 2006 National Preservation Conference ,it’s a big year for the “Burgh” and the recognition is richly deserved. In addition to the sports and architectural accolades, Downtown’s construction rumbles with more than $1 billion in development and planned development and a striking new skyline that attracts attention.

A town previously overcast with smog now boasts the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership’s Clean Team and riverfront development. Pittsburgh’s David L. Lawrence Convention Center is the largest “green” building in the world and more green building is on the way – Three PNC Plaza, with construction later this year, is soon to be the planet’s largest mixed-use green building. And, organizations such as Sustainable Pittsburgh and Green Building Alliance continue to propel Pittsburgh as a green city, a far cry from it’s old moniker as the “smoky city.”

Linda Metropulos, principal of Artemis Environmental Building Materials  shares her perspective on how Pittsburgh has emerged as a dominant green builder: “Pittsburgh is unique because green building developed out of very strong private sector leadership – particularly from the Heinz Endowments and the Green Building Alliance. Because of that strong leadership and advocacy, corporations such as PNC Bank have become among strongest corporate supporters of green building in the country.” In addition to Pittsburgh corporate, Metropulos notes that independent young designers and architects are staking their claim, too, as part of Emerging Green Builders.

“It’s the right thing to do – why wouldn’t you build green?” asks Gary Saulson, director of Corporate Real Estate for PNC. “If you can produce a building that is open and airy and sustainable and costs less to operate every year, then why not? We conduct a financial analysis of every component we put into a building to make sure that it makes sense. We have arrived at the conclusion that it’s prudent business to put energy efficient components into our buildings.”

Three PNC Plaza will be a tower of retail, condominiums, office space, a hotel, and a parking garage. One of the first new tenants is the top law firm Reed Smith. And a prominent hotel will operate out of the location. Positioned at Fifth Avenue and Market, Three PNC Plaza is an important part of a plan to redevelop the Fifth, Forbes, and Market Square area.

Susan Golomb, Director of Development for PNC Realty Services and Pittsburgh’s former Director of City Planning, was very involved in the initial redevelopment talks regarding Fifth and Forbes. Three PNC Plaza has long been considered a key component of the revitalization plan. “Not only is the site a large block, so it has a huge impact, but it is among the first projects, and therefore sets the tone for the revitalization of that corridor,” says Golomb. “It is also a link between the Cultural District and that part of town.”

Top Ranking Cultural Arts

The Cultural District underscores the importance of arts and culture to urban life, hosting thousands of performances and exhibitions in a 14-block area teeming with theaters, galleries, and restaurants. Spearheaded by The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, arts organizations, foundations and government leaders, the Cultural District has expanded into an arts district that few cities of Pittsburgh’s size can rival. Project after project, the Cultural District has marched through impressive renovations of theaters, streets, and historic buildings, which in turn has served as an economic driver to attract new investments and businesses. On the docket as the next Cultural District project is a massive undertaking that has drawn international attention – a $460 million arts and residential development along Ft. Duquesne Boulevard. In a smart and innovative move, the project’s design competition put out the call for an integrated team of architects, planners, and builders. The competition’s winners comprise both local and international professionals in urban planning, design, and green building.

“It is unique to have this kind of collaboration – there is a team of architects and developers,” says Dave DeSimone, vp of operations of The Cultural Trust. “On the design side, we wanted the quality of design and we wanted to also involve, up front, the people that would bring this project to fruition. It’s a very well-integrated team and a good feel between the different parties. We were lucky to have the time to conduct this process in a deliberate manner and the awareness of this project has been tremendous, both here and in Europe.”

Small Biz

While corporate leaders have played a major role in Pittsburgh’s revitalization, smaller businesses and creative non-profits have been moving in, filling in nooks and crannies with home grown inspiration that enriches the unique fabric of downtown. The result? A thriving small arts organizations in the Cultural District, such as the raw Future Tenant gallery or the spacious SPACE, a gallery, or Bricolage Theater Company which moved to the Cultural District in 2005. When asked about their move to 937 Liberty Avenue, artistic director Jeffrey Carpenter says, “This move has been extremely profitable. We’ve been able to partner and build relationships with Wood Street Galleries, the Gallery Crawl, and Three Rivers Arts Festival. We’ve been able to program a space and fill it with original theatrical events to huge success – this year we’ve doubled our audience base.”

The advantages to locating downtown are plentiful, from the central location which attracts a greater pool of employees and allows for good networking, to the many Happy Hours and the fun of holding a meeting at a day game of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Why not? You can walk there from any point in the Golden Triangle. If you'd rather, the underground "T" connects you--free--throughout Downtown then goes beyond to Station Square and the South Hills, a plus for commuters.

Gaining Buzz

With investors coming in from other nearby cities like Washington, DC, Pittsburgh is becoming a hot market for property acquisition and business development. While residential property is booming--see Pop City's Moving Guide to Downtown, opportunities abound for any size business looking to relocate, from new construction to rehabbed historic buildings. Rates for Class A, B and C buildings range from $12.85  to  $22.65 a square foot. Interested investors can search a database of development opportunities at the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s online database. For business and property owners, the URA offers assistance with property renovation, financing, and services appropriate to their need.

Mike Edwards, President and CEO of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership  is looking forward to the attraction of new investments: “In the next five or ten years? I would say that we’ve had a nice run of big projects such as the stadiums, Three PNC Plaza, Piatt Place, and when cities really become something is when these larger projects are filled in with smaller, more independent and interesting projects - a wider variety of small and local business. For example, the vacant buildings across from the new Three PNC Plaza become something where people can stimulate new thinking – this is where it gets exciting all around.”

For more info about Downtown visit the PopCity:
- Moving Guide
Visiting Guide

Directions to Downtown

From the North:
Take 79 South and keep left to take I-279 South via Exit 72 toward Pittsburgh. Merge onto I-579 South via Exit 8A toward Veterans Bridge. Take the 7th Ave/6th Ave Exit and take the ramp toward 6th Ave. Merge onto Bigelow Blvd and turn right onto 6th Ave. Arrive Downtown.

From the East:
Take 376 West and take the Grant St exit, Exit 1C on the left. Turn slight right onto Grant St, and then turn left onto 6th Ave. Arrive Downtown.

From the South:
Take PA-51 North and take the ramp toward I-579/Downtown/South Side. Turn right onto W Liberty Ave and go slight right onto Liberty Tunnels. Liberty Tunnels becomes Liberty Bridge. Stay straight to go onto Crosstown Blvd. Turn slight left to take the ramp toward 6th Ave/Forbes. Turn left onto Forbes, and then right onto 6th Ave. Arrive Downtown.

From the West:
Take I-279 North toward Pittsburgh and take the Blvd of Allies/Liberty Ave exit, Exit 6B toward Mellon Arena. Take the Liberty Ave ramp toward Civic Arena and stay straight to go onto Liberty Ave. Turn slight right onto 6th Ave. Arrive Downtown.

Jen Saffron is a writer who lives on Pittsburgh's Northside. She also wrote the Visitor's Guide to Downtown and the Moving Guide to Downtown.


View from David Lawrence Convention Center

Rendering of 3 PNC

Rendering of Market Square redevelopment

Wood Street Gallery in Cultural District

Cultural Trust Riverfront Development Project

Space gallery

Mike Edwards of PDP

All photographs copyright © Jonathan Greene
except Image of 3 PNC courtesy of PNC,
Image of Market Square courtesy of the URA,
Image of riverfront project courtesy of Pittsburgh Cultural Trust

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