Long-troubled area undergoing a renaissance
Multimillion-dollar renovations to apartments, townhouses and restaurants are helping Uptown shed its reputation as a derelict “drive-through” neighborhood, say urban planners and enterprising developers.
“It's crazy to have such a convenient, interesting area between two big employment centers without many places to live or to stop,” said Jonathan Hill, a partner in a venture to turn the former Fifth Avenue High School into 65 loft-style apartments. “A lot of people got used to the idea that you blink twice and you're through Uptown and into Oakland. That's changing.”
Thoroughfares Fifth and Forbes avenues in the heart of Uptown connect Downtown and Oakland, Pennsylvania's second- and third-largest economies behind Philadelphia. Some see potential to create rental properties that could command Golden Triangle-worthy rents of $1,000 a month or more amid the vacant lots and century-old abandoned buildings on Fifth Avenue. Others plan to cater to the lower-income set.
The result could introduce a mix of working class and professional residents to a long-troubled neighborhood that dwindled to roughly 700 people.
“I hate it when people roll their eyes, saying, ‘Oh, you're moving into Uptown.' Years ago, maybe that was warranted, but these neighborhoods change,” said Steve Schillo, Duquesne University's vice president for management and business. “It's a great place to live and to work.”
Schillo plans to walk to work on campus. He and his wife are moving next week from their Squirrel Hill home into a two-bedroom unit in the Fifth Avenue School Lofts. It's 90 percent leased, surpassing the expectations of Hill and Casey Steiner of Impakt Development of Edgewood.
Rents range from $725 for a 390-square-foot studio to $2,950 for a 2,000-square-foot loft. Hill said prices average about $1.25 per leased foot, about 25 cents per foot cheaper than Downtown.
Nonprofit Action Housing Inc. is hoping demand will be as strong on the other end of the market.
Action Housing started an $11.8 million renovation of the former Shanahan Warehouse building behind the Fifth Avenue School Lofts on Forbes Avenue. Ten of the 43 apartments will be designed to accommodate deaf or blind tenants. Thirty-five one-bedroom units will rent for $590 a month, and the eight two-bedroom units will be $710 a month, including utilities.
“It's for people who are making money but not making a lot of money,” said Linda Metropulos, a sustainability consultant for Action Housing.
She expects UPMC Mercy workers to rent the apartments. She said the project is part of a larger move to eliminate the disconnect between people who work at Uptown's three anchor employers — UPMC, Duquesne and the Pittsburgh Penguins — and people who live there.
Pittsburgh police report instances of some of the most serious crimes such as robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and theft in Uptown have been dropping. Serious offenses declined to 114 reported in 2011, down from 202 in 2007. Rates of lesser offenses declined, as well. Prostitution (38) and drug-related violations (37) were the most prevalent secondary offenses in 2011, crime statistics show.
“It felt to us like the neighborhood is in the beginning of a revival, and we're glad to contribute to that,” Metropulos said.
Others are contributing as well.
On nearby Dinwiddie Street, Trek Development is completing the second phase of what could become a $25 million development of 72 townhouses and apartments.
Last week, Blue Line Capital, a development group headed by businessman Kevin Nord, bought two buildings on Fifth Avenue across from Consol Energy Center and T.G.I. Friday's restaurant. Nord said he plans to build 10 lofts and a hockey-themed restaurant that features Pittsburgh's largest rooftop bar.
At the opposite end of Fifth Avenue, L.W. Molnar & Associates is starting to lease 47 one- and two-bedroom units in the Portal Place Apartments near Carlow University. Rents are $1,300 and $1,700 a month for one- and two-bedroom units.
Technically in Oakland, Portal Place is two blocks from Uptown's border marked by the Birmingham Bridge. Molnar's long-term plans call for adding more apartments and, later, retail and office space.
Developer Skip Molnar said Consol Energy Center will anchor development on one end of Fifth Avenue.
“We're hoping that our project will become an office, retail and residential anchor on the other end,” he said.
Jeanne McNutt, executive director of Uptown Partners of Pittsburgh, said she hopes each project is catalytic, spurring others to invest in Uptown's aging housing stock.
“We're becoming a pretty urban neighborhood again after decades of disinvestment,” McNutt said. “It's all starting to fall into place.”
Jeremy Boren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7935 or email@example.com.
Decrease in crime
The frequency of some of the most serious crimes has declined during the past five years in Uptown, police statistics show.
Uptown Jan-May offenses, 2007-2012
Homicide: 1 in 2007, 1 in 2008, 0 in 2009, 0 in 2010, 1 in 2011, 0 in 2012
Rape: 1 in 2007, 0 in 2008, 2 in 2009, 0 in 2010, 2 in 2011, 0 in 2012
Robbery: 27 in 2007, 25 in 2008, 18 in 2009, 15 in 2010, 11 in 2011, 9 in 2012
Agg. assault: 18 in 2007, 27 in 2008, 14 in 2009, 16 in 2010, 15 in 2011, 1 in 2012
Burglary: 21 in 2007, 14 in 2008, 15 in 2009, 15 in 2010, 10 in 2011, 4 in 2012
Theft: 124 in 2007, 106 in 2008, 83 in 2009, 62 in 2010, 64 in 2011, 36 in 2012
MV theft: 10 in 2007, 10 in 2008, 14 in 2009, 9 in 2010, 11 in 2011, 10 in 2012
Arson: 0 in 2007, 0 in 2008, 1 in 2009, 0 in 2010, 0 in 2011, 1 in 2012
Total crimes: 202 in 2007, 183 in 2008, 147 in 2009, 117 in 2010, 114 in 2011, 71 in 2012
Source: Tribune-Review research