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Downtown home to younger, wealthier residents, study finds

| Thursday, April 4, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Pedestrians cross Liberty Avenue, downtown, Wednesday. A study by the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership shows the area’s residential population is growing, getting younger and heavily uses public transportation. Downtown workers spend close to $100 a week in the area, contributing more than $600 million to the economy.

Eve Picker says she still gets strange looks when she tells people she lives Downtown.

“I say Downtown, and some people look at me like I live on the moon. I don't think it's fully accepted as a neighborhood yet, but gradually that's changing,” said Picker, 58, a nonprofit CEO who has developed six properties with almost 70 residential units since the late 1990s.

A study released Wednesday by the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership shows Downtown's growing population is getting younger, wealthier and increasingly satisfied with the neighborhood. About 39 percent of those surveyed rated Market Square as their favorite public space, far ahead of Point State Park and the riverfront trails and parks.

On the flip side, residents' biggest gripes center on the area's lack of a grocery store (34 percent cited it as a negative factor), parking (19 percent) and safety concerns (13 percent), the study found.

E. Gerry Dudley, executive vice president of the commercial real estate firm CBRE Inc., said the study provides “information that is valuable to developers and investors and tenants and occupiers alike” from key demographic data to the expectations of those who live, work and shop Downtown.

Residential development has taken off.

Downtown is home to an estimated 8,200 people today, up from 6,425 two years ago, said partnership spokeswoman Leigh Ann White. The advocacy group's definition of Downtown includes parts of the Strip District, Bluff, Lower Hill District and North Shore in Downtown, along with the Golden Triangle.

White said officials expect 1,200 new housing units to be developed in the next two years and 2,200 new ones in the next four.

“Downtown Pittsburgh is a place that had very little residential housing before 2000, but clearly there has been growth. A large part of that growth has been in the number of college students,” said Chris Briem, a regional economist at the University of Pittsburgh, citing development at Point Part University and the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.

Picker laments that average incomes have risen along with the population.

“At the moment, it's not a very diverse neighborhood,” Picker said, noting the higher cost of building Downtown necessitates higher rents and mortgages that many cannot afford. Almost half of Downtown households earn at least $100,000 a year, up from 34 percent in 2000.

Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

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