The Gateway at Summerset is no longer a slag heap


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Developer Ralph Falbo has mixed emotions about his latest project, The Gateway at Summerset.

Elated that the new $20 million apartment complex is off to a fast start, he is also a bit wistful in that it marks the end to his involvement in the Squirrel Hill phase of the Summerset at Frick Park development.

"It's happy and sad in a sense. Happy that it's been a rousing success in all aspects of the place, but a little sad that there's not more to do until we move across to the other side," he said.

Mr. Falbo is one of the partners in Summerset Land Development Associates, the developer that transformed an unsightly, non-tax-producing slag heap overlooking the Parkway East, Nine Mile Run and the Monongahela River into a neighborhood of luxury single-family homes, townhouses and apartments.

The development, championed by former Mayor Tom Murphy, has been more than a decade in the making since the first houses were constructed on the 238-acre site that now stretches nearly a mile from one end to the other.

Mr. Falbo has had a hand in three of the developments -- the new Gateway project; The Reserve, a 40-unit apartment complex; and Crescent Court Condos, a 37-unit condominium building. The Reserve is filled and the condos are sold out, he said.

It looks like his newest project, being done in conjunction with Philadelphia developer Pennrose, is headed in the same direction. As of June 28, 67 of the 131 apartments had been leased and 23 residents already had moved in.

"We've been elated. Every day we have a flood of people coming in here," Mr. Falbo said. "The neighborhood kind of sells itself."

The Gateway development consists of six buildings, each with 24 units, near the southern entrance into Summerset at Browns Hill Road. The last of the units should be completed by Sept. 20.

A one-bedroom, 786-square-foot apartment rents for $1,390 a month. A 1,050-square-foot two-bedroom apartment goes for $1,750 to $1,765 a month. The largest unit, a 1,258-square-foot two-bedroom, leases for $1,975 and up a month, depending on whether the unit overlooks the street or the Monongahela River.

The priciest apartment is a two-bedroom on the third floor of Building Six overlooking the Mon. As a visitor watched a tugboat meander down the river from an adjacent third-story stairway recently, it was easy to see why the unit commands a rent of $2,220 a month.

All tenants at Gateway have access to the Summerset swimming pool, clubhouse, fitness center, children's play area and other amenities. Each of the units features granite counter tops, stainless steel kitchen appliances, cherry cabinets, a washer and dryer, and a balcony or patio.

Mr. Falbo made sure that anyone cooking in the kitchen would be able to look out the living room window. It's one of his pet peeves -- he said the kitchens in too many apartments and condos lack access to a window.

"I like to cook, but not in a cave," he said.

As for tenants, the response from the medical community has been strong. The apartments are being marketed mainly to professionals, particularly those in the academic, medical and legal fields.

Craig Dunham, project manager for Summerset Land Development Associates, said the Gateway apartment complex was a vital project in terms of Summerset's overall development.

"It brings an exciting demographic to the community, a younger resident, and also provides an opportunity for empty-nesters to be part of the community," he said.

Summerset is in the midst of phase two of its development. That phase contemplated 125 single-family homes, condos or townhouses in addition to the apartments. Mr. Dunham said developers are about halfway toward reaching that goal.

Once the Squirrel Hill side of Summerset fills, the plan is to move the development across Nine Mile Run to Swisshelm Park. The city, Allegheny County and the city school district are considering a $24 million tax increment financing plan to pay for public infrastructure improvements related to that.

The next phase would involve another 217 houses. Mr. Dunham said it probably will be at least a year before the infrastructure work starts, assuming Summerset can secure the funding it needs.

County Councilwoman Barbara Daly Danko, whose district includes the site, has expressed concern the new phase could create a glut of high-end housing in the market. Mr. Dunham didn't see that as an issue.

"We're selling houses with as much demand and enthusiasm and response as ever in the course of the project. We're not sitting on anything that hasn't got a high level of interest," he said.

"Homes are being bid upon right now and they're in very short supply at the top end of the market. We don't see any indications of a glut."

At the same time, Mr. Falbo said he is considering the potential to do some additional multifamily development in the next phase.

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


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