Housing projects creating buzz in the Strip District



When it comes to housing, the Strip District is sizzling.

No fewer than seven residential developments, from apartments to $1 million homes, are in the works in a city neighborhood best known for its eclectic mix of markets and restaurants. These days it’s housing that is creating the buzz, with more than 600 units under development or in the planning stages.

Two of the latest ventures will go before the city’s zoning board of adjustment for approvals on July 31.

Developer Jack Benoff, who turned the Otto Milk Co. building into a successful 58-unit condominium complex, is back for an encore. He is proposing to add 35 to 40 more condos, the majority of them two-bedroom, at 2419 Smallman St. in an existing building and a new one located across from Otto Milk. There also will be indoor parking for 45 to 50 cars.

About seven blocks away, at 3155 Penn Ave., the Indovina Associates architectural firm is planning to convert the upper floors of the four-story Brass Manufacturing Co. building into 14 apartments.

The firm also will be moving its offices from Ellsworth Avenue into the first floor of the Penn Avenue building erected in 1903.

It hopes to start the $2.5 million project this summer and have it finished by late spring.

And while the project has yet to be announced, developer Zamagias Properties is eyeing the 10-story Penn Rose Building at 1627 Penn Ave., with plans to convert it into a 72-unit apartment complex.

Zamagias has the property under agreement to be purchased. David Martens, Zamagias chief operating officer, declined to comment Tuesday.

Those projects just skim the surface. Among others in the works:

• Oxford Development Co. is proposing a 299-unit apartment complex on the Allegheny riverfront between 26th and 27th streets on four acres of land used as a truck terminal by Pitt-Ohio Express.

• Shadyside-based Schreiber Real Estate is developing 59 units of apartments at a cost of $7.5 million at Smallman and 11th streets near the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. Nearly all of the complex will be built behind the former warehouse that houses Eleven restaurant.

• The Sampson Morris Group has plans to turn the 330,000-square-foot New Federal Cold Storage Building at 1501 Penn Ave. into 144 units of apartments with parking for at least 190 cars and 160 bicycles.

• Chuck Hammel, Pitt-Ohio Express president, and his wife, Kristen, are converting a warehouse at 25th Street and Smallman into 11 “city homes” priced at $1 million or more.

The two- to three-story units will range from 3,500 square feet to 5,800 square feet and feature an integral two-car garage. Construction has started and should be completed next summer.

Mr. Hammel said four of the units are close to being under contract.

And none of that even counts the Buncher Co.’s proposed Riverfront Landing development, which would feature at least 750 units of housing, or proposals by two developers to convert the produce terminal into a residential property should Buncher not get control of the Strip landmark for an office and retail project.

Rich Beynon, president of Beynon & Co., said the explosion of housing in the Strip is a simple matter of success breeding success. He said that sold-out residential developments like the Cork Factory have caught the eye of developers.

“It’s been successful, the rates are increasing,” he said of the Strip’s housing market. “Thus you start to get more developers interested. It tends to be less of a risk in terms of redeveloping some of these older buildings.”

The location also helps, close to Downtown with easy access to shopping, bars and restaurants, and other amenities, making the neighborhood attractive to the young and old alike.

“You’re still in the city but not in the congestion of the city. You have a little more room and walking space,” Mr. Beynon said.

Neither he nor Becky Rodgers, executive director of Neighbors in the Strip, saw the housing boom as a simple extension of what has been happening Downtown, where hundreds of new residential units have been constructed. They saw Downtown and the Strip, while side by side, as different markets.

“[The Strip’s] an urban neighborhood as opposed to a central business district,” Ms. Rodgers said.

While she is ecstatic about the plans for housing in the neighborhood, Ms. Rodgers does worry that it could affect the Strip’s diversity.

“The thing that concerns me is the diversity of housing in the Strip. It’s such a diverse neighborhood, it would be great to have some affordable rents,” she said.


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

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