Restaurants, lofts first sign of development near Consol Energy Center

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As Penguins announcer Mike Lange might say, buy Sam a drink, and get his dog one, too. There will be plenty of chances, as a new development near Consol Energy Center gets ready to roll.

Blue Line Grille, a 5,800-square-foot restaurant and bar, is set to open on Fifth Avenue across from Consol next month. It is part of a $4 million plus, four-level complex that will include 10 loft apartments and Uptown, a sleek rooftop lounge overlooking the arena.

The project constitutes the first major non-arena-related development to take place near Consol since it opened in August 2010.

"We're trying to make it a destination. This is something the city hasn't seen," said Kevin Nord, the majority owner. "I firmly believe that with this project, the word Uptown will become a staple in Pittsburghers' vocabulary in the next three to five years. I think this project will jump-start that."

David Glickman, director of retail services for the Newmark Grubb Knight Frank real estate firm, said the area near Consol Energy Center has taken long to develop in part because some of the buildings in the vicinity are older and "were priced a bit aggressively."

He also said Downtown development, particularly in Market Square, overshadowed Uptown.

Nonetheless, Mr. Glickman sees the area developing "over time, slowly but surely." If the Penguins follow through with plans to develop housing at the former Civic Arena site, that will help to drive more retail and restaurants to the area, he said.

Blue Line Grille -- with the catchy projected opening date of 11/12/13 -- will feature a bar, a VIP area that will seat up to 45 people, and the "Sin Bin," a replica of a hockey penalty box complete with glass and boards and seating for up to 20 people.

There also will be 30 televisions -- including two 110-inch projection models. The restaurant will serve "Uptown contemporary food" -- gourmet hamburgers, pizza, lobster rolls and fried pork chop sandwiches.

Joining Mr. Nord, president of Pro Towels Etc., in the venture will be James Mendelson, operator of Doc's Place Bar and Restaurant in Shadyside for more than a quarter of a century. Mr. Mendelson will be in charge of day-to-day operations.

"My job is to take all the expertise and all my relationships and parlay them into a successful business right here across from Consol," Mr. Mendelson said.

The project, with the outdoor rooftop deck, is right in his wheelhouse, he said. "Obviously the location across from the Penguins is exciting. And Kevin and I have been friends for 25 years. So the opportunity to work with him was also a bonus."

Among the other investors in the project is Bill Guerin, a former Penguins player.

Sandwiched between the Blue Line Grille and Uptown will be two floors of loft apartments. The 10 units -- six one-bedroom and four two-bedroom -- will range in size from 950 square feet to 1,700 square feet. The two 1,700-square-foot lofts will offer views of Consol and the vicinity.

Mr. Nord has been marketing the units to the Penguins, Duquesne University and UPMC Mercy. He said he already is in negotiations with six prospective renters. The apartments are expected to rent for $1,000 to $2,600 a month and should be ready by mid-December.

Set to open around Thanksgiving, Uptown, a 5,800-square-foot lounge, will have seating for 132 people. Mr. Nord said it will be the largest rooftop bar in the city with both indoor and outdoor areas.

"At night, with Consol, it's just a phenomenal view," he said.

While bars and restaurants near the arena tend to do well on event nights, they don't do so well at other times. Mr. Nord believes Blue Line Grille and Uptown can change that.

And with TGI Fridays restaurant occupying street-level space on Fifth in Consol and the Blue Line Grille opening, the area has the makings of the critical mass needed to take it to the next level, Mr. Glickman said.

"If a third place goes there, it could become almost a hot spot," he said.

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