Downtown Pittsburgh's '5&10 apartments' luring renters

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Since moving into their Downtown apartment about a month ago, Joe Karlovits and Jessica Funovits have taken in a couple of shows in the cultural district, dined with friends in Market Square on New Year's Eve, and sampled some of the hot spots around them.

Through it all, they're finding Downtown living to be incredibly convenient, from the walks to work each day to jaunts to nearby bars and restaurants.

"I love the fact that I go home for lunch. It's great. I come home, I sit here, I watch a show and go back to work. It's better than going downstairs to a restaurant and paying $15 to eat," said Mr. Karlovits, who works in One Oxford Centre.

Thanks to couples like Mr. Karlovits and Ms. Funovits, the G.C. Murphy store Downtown once again is packing them in. But this time, it's residents, not shoppers, generating the coveted foot traffic.

Since September, developer Millcraft Industries has rented 31 of 46 apartments in the old five-and-dime and adjacent buildings, and hopes to have the buildings fully leased by summer.

"We feel really good about where we are now," said Lucas Piatt, Millcraft executive vice president.

Rents range from $750 a month for a small studio apartment to $3,000 a month for a third-floor corner apartment with two bedrooms, two baths, and a panoramic view of Market Square.

So far, most residents have gone for apartments renting for less than $1,500 a month. But there have been exceptions, with one renting for $1,800 a month and another for $1,950.

Of the 31 renters, 21 are from the Pittsburgh area and 10 have relocated from states such as Virginia, New Jersey, New York and California. The vast majority are younger professionals who work Downtown, although there is one elderly couple.

The 46 apartments are part of the $40 million conversion of the Murphy's store and several adjacent buildings, including one that housed Candy-Rama, into Market Square Place.

Besides the residences, the redevelopment will feature 25,000 square feet of street-level retail and restaurant space and will be the new home of the Downtown YMCA, which is set to relocate from the Boulevard of the Allies by the end of March.

Inside the old building, residents will find parts of its past.

In an apartment overlooking part of Market Square, a decorative railing originally was part of the stairs that took shoppers from Murphy's first floor to its basement.

Likewise, residents who use the building's common room might recognize the giant red letters that hang on the walls. They are part of the G.C. Murphy Co. sign that identified the storefront for decades.

"We wanted to tie it all together, pay homage to the history down here," said Mr. Piatt, whose company is seeking a gold rating from the LEED "green building" certification system.

While the apartments are filling, Millcraft has yet to land deals for any of the retail space. But Mr. Piatt was confident that would change soon.

He said he had three restaurant prospects, two "fast-casual" spots similar to Panera Bread and a "higher-end New York-style" restaurant. He hopes to have about half the space leased by summer.

Millcraft also is looking to add a clothing retailer to supplement the move of Larrimor's to One PNC Plaza at Fifth Avenue and Wood Street, and the opening of Heinz Healey's men's clothing store and Nettleton Shop shoe store at Fifth and Market Street.

Mr. Piatt professed no discouragement over the empty retail space.

In fact, he said Millcraft was being very deliberate in its pace and selection.

"We've kind of taken a sit-back-and-wait approach," he said. "We want to make sure we bring the right tenants in. We want to wait until Market Square reopens, and we want to wait until the economy gets better. We think time is on our side."

Mr. Karlovits, 26, and Ms. Funovits, 27, who works in Station Square, pay $1,400 a month for their one-bedroom loft apartment with a study that could serve as a small second bedroom. They also pay $150 a month for parking.

But with the money they save driving or taking the bus from Shadyside, where they both lived before moving Downtown, they said they were just about breaking even financially. Another benefit to living at Market Square Place is that they will have free use of the YMCA once it opens, eliminating the gym fees they paid in the past. The Y membership was a "big selling point," Ms. Funovits said.

"It just seemed like the price was right for what we're getting," Mr. Karlovits added.

Without a Downtown grocery, the two have done most of their shopping in Robinson, the North Hills or in the Strip. While inconvenient, "it really hasn't been too bad," Ms. Funovits said. In a pinch, there's always the CVS store right below them.

And while some may perceive Downtown as being unsafe, the couple found that not to be the case. "Surprisingly, I feel very comfortable walking the streets by myself," Ms. Funovits said.

One complaint they had was how early many of the stores and restaurants Downtown closed on weekdays, usually by 6 p.m. outside of the cultural district.

"We're hoping that the restaurants and stores are going to stay open a little bit later and they're also going to open on weekends," Ms. Funovits said.

Both said their experience would get only better as the renovations at Market Square Place and in Market Square itself are completed and more and more people begin living Downtown.

That's not to say they haven't been pleased with what they've found so far. "It's nice, just going into little bars and spots. It's enjoyable. It's fun down here," Mr. Karlovits said.

Mark Belko can be reached at or 412-263-1262. First Published January 20, 2010 5:00 AM


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