Bet on Pittsburgh: More development here looks like a sure thing

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A 300-year-old, London-based real estate investment firm says Pittsburgh is a very safe bet for the long term. Bill Stolze is making a big wager.

The residential developer purchased an eight-story former whiskey distillery on the South Side for $495,000 two years ago, and he plans to convert it into a condominium complex. The building, at South Second and McKean streets, sits just west of where the Liberty Bridge passes over the neighborhood.

That’s what makes the site selection a bit of a gamble.

While housing construction has been booming in the traditional South Side Flats and Slopes and farther east to the SouthSide Works, the section closer to the Station Square entertainment and office buildings has been dormant. Although Forest City Enterprises, which owns the complex, has talked about building 1,250 units in the vicinity, Mr. Stolze will be the first to test the market.

His proposed Whiskey Barrel Flats would include 10 to 13 units priced from $400,000 to $1.25 million, featuring a private bar for residents on the ground floor and a rooftdop deck with views of Downtown.

If he is a pioneer, he likely won’t be alone for long.

Mayor Bill Peduto has singled out Station Square as a place where he’s eager to see residential development, and real estate professionals say there’s nowhere else to build on the southern banks of the Monongahela River without heading west.

Beyond local encouragement, the research organization Grosvenor gave city prospects a boost earlier this month when it rated Pittsburgh as the fifth most-resilient city in the world for long-term real estate investment, behind Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary in Canada along with Chicago. The report, “Resilient Cities,” was released at the spring meeting of the Urban Land Institute in Vancouver. It defined resilience as “the ability of a city to avoid or bounce back from an adverse event.”

The study analyzed 50 metropolitan areas based on two categories: their vulnerability, which included climate, environment, resources, infrastructure and community affairs such as affordable housing, crime rates and the business environmental; and their ability to adapt, including governance, local institutions, educational and technological capacity, budgeting and planning.

Pittsburgh rated among the least vulnerable, at ninth, and the most adaptive, at 10th, creating the combined ranking of fifth. The U.S. city with the lowest rating was Houston, at 22nd, with all of the lower-ranked cities on other continents.

Whether from the outside looking in — as the Grosvenor report did — or the inside looking out — like Mr. Stolze — the forecast for Pittsburgh is very good.


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