New wave of development in store for Downtown Pittsburgh

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A Downtown apartment building with a rooftop pool, a spa and a yoga room. A dining and entertainment complex near the Consol Energy Center. And a playhouse that never sleeps.

They are among the projects on the drawing boards or getting ready to start in the heart of the Golden Triangle or its fringes -- some 60 in all worth an estimated $2.2 billion in investment, according to the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership.

The projects represent the latest wave of development in a downtown that has been undergoing change for much of the decade, with a revitalized Market Square, the conversion of a number of buildings into apartments or condominiums, and the construction of two major office towers.

While virtually all of the developments discussed during the partnership's annual meeting Tuesday had been announced previously, new elements emerged as developers work to refine the projects.

At the former Saks Fifth Avenue department store, for example, developers Millcraft Investments and McKnight Realty Partners now are considering a rooftop swimming pool, a spa and a yoga room or studio as part of a 130-unit apartment complex to be built at the site.

The amenities are designed to help the project stand out amid an apartment boom Downtown -- PMC Property Group of Philadelphia alone has 2,100 units under development.

"It's surrounding yourself in a lifestyle, health and wellness [environment]," Lucas Piatt, Millcraft president and chief operating officer, said of the Saks redevelopment.

The apartment mix would include 24 tiny, 500-square-foot studios priced at about $900 a month and targeted to renters with more moderate incomes. The proposed development also would feature a 450-space parking garage and 25,000 square feet of street-level retail.

Millcraft also expects to break ground in June on the $95 million Gardens at Market Square, to be built on Forbes Avenue near Market Square. It will feature 125,000 square feet of office space, a 197-room Hilton Garden Inn and a 335-space, above-ground parking garage, all to be completed in 2015. Millcraft already has signed two restaurant tenants -- Burgatory and Jackson's Social Bar and Restaurant for street-level retail space.

The Penguins, meanwhile, anticipate the first "vertical" development on the 28-acre former Civic Arena site by early 2015. The team is proposing at least 1,100 residential units and 600,000 square feet of office space at the site, along with a possible 150-room hotel and parking for 2,600 cars.

Travis Williams, Penguins chief operating officer, said the team also is considering an entertainment and retail component to complement the Consol Energy Center, located across the street. He said it would be similar in concept to Xfinity Live!, a Philadelphia dining and entertainment complex located near that city's sports stadiums and arena.

Mr. Williams said the Consol-related entertainment would be only a small portion of the development's 200,000 square feet of retail, much of it dedicated to those living and working at the site, he said.

Another entertainment venue will be moving into the heart of Downtown with the relocation of Point Park University's Pittsburgh Playhouse from Oakland to a 1.6-acre site on Forbes.

Point Park president Paul Hennigan said the move has the potential to bring another 300 students to Downtown and enliven a part of Forbes across the street from PNC Financial Services Group's new $400 million Tower at PNC Plaza skyscraper now under construction.

The Point Park complex will include three state-of-the-art theaters as well as scene and sound shops. Mr. Hennigan said it has the potential to be a true 24/7 destination, with students working or performing at the site around the clock.

"In our opinion, the new Pittsburgh Playhouse will be a game changer for Downtown Pittsburgh. It will add an element of life and vitality that is just not here right now," he said.

Point Park has no timetable for the start of the project, although The Globe, the university's student newspaper, reported earlier that it could start next year and be completed by early 2016.

PNC, meanwhile, hopes to finish the conversion of the former Lord & Taylor department store on Smithfield Street into a call center in November, providing a shot in the arm for a section of Downtown reeling after the Saks closing last year.

Gary Saulson, PNC executive vice president and director of corporate real estate, said the new call center will be home to 850 employees.

The building, a former Mellon Bank, is a city historic structure. PNC, Mr. Saulson said, is taking care to maintain its historic integrity. That means, for example, that a night deposit box outside will still read "Mellon."

PNC also remains on schedule to complete the new skyscraper, billed as the world's greenest, in the summer of 2015, Mr. Saulson said.

At the same time, Continental Real Estate Cos. plans to get started this year on a new three-story office building on the North Shore near Stage AE and Heinz Field. Continental already has lined up Toby Keith's I Love This Bar & Grill to anchor the complex, creating a music and "eatertainment" venue, said Barry Ford, Continental president of development.

The launch or completion of the projects this year will coincide with the end of renovations to a famous city landmark -- the Point State Park fountain, which will splash to life as part of a June 7 celebration.

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


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