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Developing a place for new Pittsburghers


If Pittsburgh wants to achieve Mayor Bill Peduto's goal of bringing 20,000 new residents to the city by the start of 2025, local stakeholders agree that the city needs to invest in both residential and infrastructure development to attract a more youthful population and to dissuade citizens from choosing or moving to the suburbs.

Aiming to bring thousands of new residents to Pittsburgh is no mean feat.The 2010 census saw our population drop by 8.52 percent. However, since 2005, population decline has been reversed, according to IRS data. In fact, according to 2012 estimates by the Census bureau, we're up .2 percent to 306,211 residents since 2010. The demographics of the new population are trending younger and tend to be more educated.

"We have a lot of elements that make that goal of attracting 20,000 new residents achievable," says Kevin Acklin, Peduto’s chief of staff and chief development officer, who is also chairman of the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). But, he adds, echoing a long-time Peduto theme, "it's clear to us that there are two Pittsburghs." While the administration will be supporting the neighborhoods already seeing growth in businesses and housing, he says, "there are entire neighborhoods of the city that haven't seen investment in 50 years.”

Acklin notes that housing brings people who will, in turn, rebuild the city’s tax base. He explains that part of the mayor’s vision to attract residents is to focus on neighborhoods that haven’t seen a recent investment in housing, or that don’t have enough residential properties.These neighborhoods include the Hill District, Homewood, Larimer, Sheraden and the North Side.

Another way to attract new residents is to be creative, re-purposing existing spaces and focusing on creating amenities.Thomas E. Cummings, the URA's director of housing, sees future housing efforts concentrated on the conversion of under-used space in certain neighborhoods such as Downtown, the Strip and the South Side. He also says a critical piece to making such residences work is the city providing services to make all Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods desirable to move into.

The URA's role as a conduit for state and federal tax credits available to housing developers will continue to be crucial.

"We'll have to work on both the demand and the supply side, using every tool at our disposal," Cummings says, speaking about the mayor’s goal for 20,000 new residents. "We'll be aggressive in seeking low-income housing tax credits [and] trying to provide market-rate opportunities. It'll have to be a full-court press."

One potential model for neighborhood redevelopment, which Acklin and others from the city toured in February, is Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, which resembles the Hill District in its recent condition and in its opportunities, Acklin says. Cincinnati officials approached local corporate leadership and raised a revolving loan fund, resulting in boarded buildings converted into coffee shops and doctors' offices in the formerly high-crime neighborhood. The effort is overseen by the nonprofit Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation, which over the past decade has funneled more than $717 million to the neighborhood and downtown to support mixed-use developments, preservation of historic streetscapes and building mixed-income neighborhoods with their own businesses.
 
"It's a model we're looking at as a potential plan to focus investments," Acklin says.
 
Great developments already here

Acklin looks toward 2018 as a big opportunity for development efforts. In 2018 the city will have paid down enough of its debt to gain $40 million a year for the budget.

"The parallel track is working to retain employers and grow them," Acklin says.

Employees of said companies will be looking for urban amenities such as bike lanes, public transportation access, green developments and green spaces.

“They want to be in a city that is reaching for greatness," he says. "That influences our design policy as well. The days of suburban development in the city are over."

Acklin points to developers doing admirable work here: PMC Property Group of Philadelphia (of The Clark Building, Kenmawr Apartments, Penn Garrison Lofts, 201 Stanwix and others); Millcraft Investments of Washington, Pa. (developing its Fifth and Market project: Piatt Place, Market Square Place, The Gardens at Market Square and River Vue); downtown's TREK Development (creators of the Miller Lofts, as well as 72 rental townhouses and apartments in the Hill District), McCormack Baron Salazar of St. Louis (redeveloping the Civic Arena site), and Ralph Falbo (151 First Side condominiums).
 
He also sees Squirrel Hill's Summerset at Frick Park, by The Rubinoff Company, as a great neighborhood. In fact, the URA just approved a proposal to expand the development. 

“It's an easy, strong investment for us,” Acklin says. “It's one of the few areas of the city where we can create market-rate housing."

Currently, the site has 250 single-family homes and townhouses, 36 condominiums and 170 rental units, with 1,000 residents arriving since the first home on this former slag heap was occupied in 2001.
 
"They are getting all the amenities of Squirrel Hill, without a drafty [older] house," says Craig Dunham of Dunham reGroup LLC, project manager for Summerset Land Development Associates. Coupled with amenities on site, such as the community center and pool, that makes it competitive with the suburbs for new residents, attracting a fair number of professionals from the eds and meds sector and from outside of the region.
 
"In 15 to 20 years, when all the trees have grown up and things start to wear a little, it'll look just like Pt. Breeze or Squirrel Hill," he says. URA funding will help the development expand across Nine Mile Run under a master plan to be devised this spring. New construction should begin in 2015.
 
Downtown Pittsburgh offers a lot of “high-end, high-priced” opportunities for would-be residents, says John Ginocchi, director of development at Trek Development. He sees more affordable housing as a way to grow the population Downtown.
 
Ginocchi is confident that new residents will be attracted to housing with a lower price. "There's a big demand in the Lower Hill area. We get 300 applicants every time we open up a development there," he says.
 
Ralph A. Falbo, who heads his own development firm, revamped 151 First Side on First Avenue into 82 condominiums in 2007, and says all but four have been sold. He is currently trying to develop a downtown market off of Market Square, which he describes as an "upscale grocery and wine bar."
 
He believes it will fit with the urban housing market he has observed in recent years: busy professionals who have unusual hours and don't have time to cook, looking instead for a local restaurant district. When they do cook, they want to have the European experience of shopping daily for daily provisions in a local grocery. They also still want a convenient place to have their car, even if they've downsized to one vehicle and use more public transportation.
 
Who will be those 20,000 new residents?

Ernie Hogan sees a new demographic headed for urban housing, and he believes that's the future of cities like Pittsburgh.
 
Hogan directs the nonprofit Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group, which advocates for Pittsburgh to adopt policies for healthier urban neighborhoods.
 
"We are growing younger as a city, and we need to," Hogan says. He believes we'll be following the national trend of cities, attracting a more diverse demographic: people of different ethnicities, younger people and more single heads of households. He has seen new housing in his own neighborhood of Highland Park attract a third of its residents from elsewhere in the neighborhood, a third from the region and the final third from outside Pittsburgh, including more singles and young couples than families, and more women than men.
 
"East Liberty's showing the same thing," Hogan says of all the housing the neighborhood has added in the last decade. He also points out that Mt. Washington is starting to see a new surge of residents, along with the Brentwood/Whitehall/Baldwin area outside the city. Even the West End, despite the many foreclosures it has experienced, is starting to come back he says.

"We need to think beyond the city, to the first ring suburbs," he believes, which together with the city encompasses about 680,000 people. Then, he says, "you start to get to an interesting urban center." Connecting to the outer reaches of the urban will actually be a good strategy for growing downtown, he adds.
 
But for that, "mass transportation is going to have to be at the forefront," he says. Pittsburgh was an early adopter of one form of bus rapid transit (BRT) – the East Busway – but hasn't moved much further. He believes the busway's " next natural progression would be to extend to Monroeville," and that other forms of BRT should be moving residents from downtown through Oakland to Squirrel Hill and Homestead, as well as through Polish Hill, and even out to Braddock.
 
Concludes Hogan: "It's what we see as the way to continue to grow our city."
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