New hospital a boost for Lawrenceville and Bloomfield
Share with others:
Ten years ago, the same Lawrenceville house might have gone for $30,000, says Tony Ceoffe. But this spring, the place two houses up from his went for five times that -- purchased, not incidentally, by a pediatrician. The home with a yard adjacent to his, on 39th Street, just sold for $190,000. A townhome five blocks away is under agreement for $180,000.
The new Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, straddling Bloomfield and Lawrenceville, is opening next year and bringing with it thousands of employees who will eat, shop and in some cases live in the adjoining neighborhoods. And the big move is being preceded, anecdotally and statistically, by upswings in home prices and rental prices, and changes to the nearby business corridors of Penn and Liberty avenues and Butler Street.
Lawrenceville's transition from hard luck to hot stuff has been under way for some time, but Mr. Ceoffe, executive director of Lawrenceville United, said the transition has accelerated since the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center announced in 2002 that it would move its Children's Hospital to the old St. Francis Medical Center site on Penn Avenue.
"Smart people got in front of the Children's Hospital coming here," he said.
And newcomers are paying the premium. Neighborhood statistics published by Zillow real estate services show Bloomfield second-quarter home sale prices were up 10.2 percent over the same quarter in 2007, and up more than 6 percent over first-quarter prices.
In Lawrenceville, home prices were up 7 percent year-over-year, more than 5 percent higher than the first quarter of 2008. This in a region where home prices are down by 5 percent, and the number of homes sold is down by more than 15 percent, from a year ago. (Third-quarter statistics won't be published until November.)
One quarter does not a trend make, and in a city with 88 neighborhoods, winners and losers might switch places from month to month, thanks to small sample sizes. But what's going on in Bloomfield and Lawrenceville seems to be genuine, say real estate agents, property owners and neighborhood leaders.
"Lawrenceville, it's just amazing," said Coldwell Banker's Liz Duffy. And "the last time I looked, there were 23 active listings in all of Bloomfield ... There just isn't much inventory right now," unusual in a neighborhood of around 9,000, Ms. Duffy said. Some city neighborhoods, especially in a down market, might have 23 listings in just a few square blocks.
That's partly because Bloomfield, to a greater degree than other neighborhoods like Shadyside and the South Side, is populated by people who have been there forever, and who don't want to move just yet.
"It's not like a transient neighborhood," said Karla Owens of the Bloomfield Business Association. "The businesses are the same as the residences. They come in, and they come in for a long time."
So there aren't many empty storefronts along Liberty Avenue, and there aren't many homes for sale. When the homes do hit the market, they don't stay on it for long. It's an elementary illustration of supply and demand at work.
"We have a younger generation that wants to come in," Ms. Owens said, but an older generation that is staying in their homes. That's driving up prices -- sales prices and rental prices, too. The $300-a-month bargains in those neighborhoods are becoming less frequent, and $1,000 a month is becoming more common.
On the commercial side, the three corridors are trying to anticipate how they can best serve the huge new hospital while preserving what already makes the streets unique. Liberty Avenue will remain Little Italy's main street, but will also become an important connector between the hospital on one end and the condo-hotel-commercial complex on the former Don Allen Auto City site.
"You're going to see a whole new area down there by the Bloomfield Bridge," Ms. Owens said. Already the former Roth Carpet building at 4039 Liberty is being converted into medical offices.
Butler Street in Lawrenceville will still be home to galleries, boutiques and bars, but is learning how to accommodate the newcomers.
"We're starving for new restaurants," Mr. Ceoffe said. "Piccolo Forno is constantly packed. Coco Cafe, the line is out the door on weekends."
The small stretch of Penn Avenue at 40th and Main streets, outside the hospital's front doors, is the one strip still searching for an identity, and the one that stands to benefit the most from the hospital's move. It's also the strip that suffered the most when St. Francis closed its doors, said Phil Spano, chairman of the Penn Main Business Association and owner of several properties.
A few sandwich shops remain, Brillobox bar has carved a nice niche for itself, and Tram's Vietnamese kitchen is still a favorite, but by and large there's little foot traffic there. That will change dramatically when the hospital's 3,000-plus employees and 3,000 or so patients begin moving in and out, Sunday through Saturday.
"A lot of people are going to be coming from out of state," Mr. Spano said, noting that Children's is one of the nation's best youth hospitals. "We want them to be able to walk out the front door, walk up and down the street and go into a restaurant, go into a bakery, a dry cleaner."
First Published October 23, 2008 12:00 am