Downtown Pittsburgh enjoys growth in population, building boom
Fred and Christine Thieman migrated from the suburbs to Downtown when their youngest child went to college about three years ago.
That year, for the first time in more than 90 years, the nation's biggest cities, including Pittsburgh, grew faster than their suburbs, according to the Brookings Institution, a Washington policy group.
The trend continued in each of the past two years, though growth rates for cities and suburbs hover around 1 percent and the gap between them is narrowing, Brookings reported in May.
But the population living Downtown has soared. Census data show the area was home to 12,343 people last year, up 10.5 percent from 2010.
“Not an ounce of me misses being in the suburbs,” said Fred Thieman, 62, who lives in 151 First Side, a 78-unit condominium tower that opened on Fort Pitt Boulevard in 2007.
Thieman and his wife grew up in South Hills suburbs — he in Bethel Park, she in Mt. Lebanon. Before moving Downtown, they spent 25 years raising four children in Edgewood, an eastern suburb.
“It was a nice place to raise kids, but we're as happy as little clams,” said Thieman, a former U.S. Attorney who is president of the Buhl Foundation, noting everything from work and recreation to dining and entertainment is a short walk or bicycle ride away.
Since 2010, 1,340 residential units were built or began construction in the Greater Downtown area, which includes the Golden Triangle, North Shore, South Shore, Uptown, the Bluff and the Strip District as far northeast as 31st Street. Proposed residential units number 2,229.
Developers can't build apartments and condos in Downtown fast enough — more than 96 percent of the units are occupied, the partnership said. The 3,569 units that were built or are in the pipeline nearly equals the number developed during the past five decades.
About 35 percent of Downtown's new residents come from other city neighborhoods, 30 percent from other states, 25 percent from other communities in Allegheny County and 10 percent from Pennsylvania communities outside Allegheny County, the partnership said.
Jeremy Waldrup, president and CEO of the partnership, said the growth is driven by young professionals and empty nesters such as the Thiemans.
On average, a one-bedroom apartment Downtown rents for $1,455 a month, and a two-bedroom apartment goes for $1,887 a month, the partnership said. The average condo sale price is $320,493.
Waldrup and other Downtown advocates already have their eyes on the next frontier in Downtown living: attracting young families, an underrepresented group in the city's heart.
“That's the next step, but we have a long way to go to make it happen,” Waldrup said, noting that developing more green spaces and family-oriented programs will be key to drawing families.
William H. Frey, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said he isn't ready to declare the 2010s the “Decade of the City.”
“The initial city growth upsurge could well be attributable to the recession's aftermath and the suburban housing market slowdown. If that were the case, then the newly reported city growth slowdown and modest (suburban) gains could signal that past suburban growth patterns are re-emerging,” Frey said.
Ethan S. Fellheimer of the Philadelphia-based Red Rocks Group, which is opening 40 loft-style apartments at 121 Seventh St. in the fall, said he believes growth can occur in cities and suburbs without one area pillaging residents from the other.
“Cities have so much to offer, but there's also money to make in a suburban market,” Fellheimer said, pointing to rampant drilling-related growth in Washington County and the potential for growth related to the possible development of a multibillion-dollar petrochemical plant in Beaver County.
Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or firstname.lastname@example.org.