Once used for shopping, Pittsburgh's Clark Building soon will house apartments

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At one time the Clark Building served as the district headquarters of Warner Brothers and even had its own movie screening room in a mezzanine, one frequented by film critics, movie magnates and their friends.

And for decades, it has been the hub for the local jewelry trade, a one-stop shop for those looking for engagement rings, Christmas gifts or anniversary presents.

Now, Philadelphia developer PMC Property Group is hoping to turn the 23-story building on Liberty Avenue into a gem of a different sort, one tailored to residents instead of rubies.

Downtown’s newest luxury apartment complex will get its christening May 1, when the first tenants are expected to move into a building built in 1927 and named for James W. Clark, the founder of MGM.

PMC is in the process of converting floors five to 23 into one- and two-bedroom apartments — a total of 228 units in all — with rents priced from $1,350 a month to $2,400 a month, plus water and electric. About 60 percent of the units have been completed.

So far, 30 apartments have been leased and PMC is expecting rentals to pick up with the break in the weather and with open houses scheduled for this month.

“We just started pre-leasing in mid-February and it’s been so cold out,” said Angie Paiano, a PMC leasing consultant. “We’re excited about the property for sure and we’re ready.”

Like many of the luxury units Downtown, the Clark Building apartments are equipped with stainless steel appliances, hardwood floors, granite countertops, and washers and dryers.

But on the top floors, at least, the biggest selling point may be the views, not the amenities.

In a 670-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment on the Allegheny River side of the building that will rent for $1,475 a month, for example, it might be advisable to keep a pair of binoculars handy.

While the main part in the 23rd-floor unit is compact, with a living area, kitchen and dining nook, the views of the river and the North Shore are panoramic. Visitors can use the binoculars to peer directly into nearly all of PNC Park to watch the Pirates, albeit from a very long distance.

On the same floor on the city side — a 1,160-square-foot, two-bedroom model that will rent for $2,400 a month — visitors find themselves nestled among Downtown skyscrapers. From that vantage point, the city architecture comes to life, from the stately steeples of the Trinity Cathedral to the tapestry of steel, glass and granite provided by the mix of early 20th century buildings and modern day high-rises.

“You feel like you’re in a true city. It’s beautiful,” Ms. Paiano said.

A rooftop deck offers even more commanding views of the skyline, the North Shore and the Allegheny River. Residents will have access to furniture and a grill, making it possible to have a hot dog while watching a ballgame from the rooftop.

PMC also has built a state-of-the-art fitness center for residents. A 75-inch flat screen TV hangs from one wall, stirring thoughts of the old screening room.

The developer will continue to use the first four floors of the building for retail, including jewelry sales.

While the new complex faces competition from other apartment buildings Downtown — including Market Square Place, River Vue and even some of PMC’s other properties — Ms. Paiano believes amenities like the rooftop deck, the fitness center and the location will help it stand out.

“Two hundred twenty-eight units in the heart of Downtown — I think that sets us apart from everyone else,” she said.

The one-bedroom rental rates are on par or slightly higher than those at some of the other luxury apartment buildings Downtown, including some of those owned by PMC.

For the developer, the Clark Building marks the fifth property Downtown it has converted into apartments. The first was the Verizon building on Stanwix Street. Others were smaller buildings at 526 and 908 Penn Ave. and an expansion of the PMC-owned Penn Garrison apartment building on Penn.

The new units are coming available at a time the demand for Downtown living appears to be strong, even at rental rates that are higher than the average for the Pittsburgh market as a whole. The occupancy rate for apartments is 96 percent for greater Downtown, which includes the North Shore, Uptown, Station Square and part of the Strip District.

Occupancy rates for the PMC apartment buildings Downtown ranges from sold-out at 526 and 908 Penn to 97 percent at the Penn Garrison, Ms. Paiano said. It’s 98 percent at the former Verizon property.

Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.

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