Strip District development will push into the North Side, officials say
With available land quickly disappearing in Pittsburgh’s Strip District, the Buncher Corp. and city officials are eyeing an 11-acre section of the North Side near the 16th Street bridge as the city’s next development hot spot.
Buncher owns all but several parcels between the 16th Street and Veterans bridges, directly across the Allegheny River from the Strip, and has begun discussions with Mayor Bill Peduto’s office and Allegheny County and state officials about infrastructure improvements necessary for development, according to Mike Kutzer, Buncher’s vice president of real estate.
Kutzer said Buncher has only five parcels remaining in its Strip District Riverfront Landing development stretching along the river from 11th to 21st streets, and one of the five is being considered for an office building.
“We’re working with Allegheny County, the state and the mayor’s office to try and get something going,” he said of the North Side property. “We are experiencing interest from prospective users for growth from the Strip District into the North Side.”
Peduto said companies based around robotics and artificial intelligence are acting as a magnet for other businesses. The logical next step, he said, is pushing development across the 16th Street Bridge to the last large piece of mostly vacant land in that area of the city.
The property is across Chestnut Street from Heinz Lofts, an original section of the former H.J. Heinz plant that was converted into an upscale apartment complex.
“What we’re looking at now is crossing the bridge and going to the North Side,” Peduto said. “Not just on the Heinz site, but across the street from the Heinz site and working with Buncher to start putting back a street grid and creating a development on that side of the bridge as well.”
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said the county is in early stages of discussions with Buncher.
“In the not-too-distant future, we’ll run out of room in the Strip District, but there’s desirability for folks to be there,” Fitzgerald said. “When you go across the 16th Street bridge, you do see some areas of opportunity. There’s land that’s vacant right now and we need to take a look at that and see if it makes sense to make that developable as well.”
That section of the North Side was formerly a residential/industrial area dubbed “Swiss Hole” after the Swiss immigrants who once lived there. The area is mostly composed of vacant lots with only a few homes and businesses remaining.
George Warhola has operated a scrap yard on Chesbro Street for decades.
“They’ve been trying to buy this for 30 years,” said Warhola, a nephew of late artist Andy Warhol. “It’s a valuable piece of property. They’ve had people walking through here looking it over. I know [development] is coming, but when?”
Beth Mullin, who runs Mullin’s Diner across the street from the Warhola scrap yard, said her father, Jimmy, has received several offers to sell. She said the business has declined drastically since Heinz and its successors began cutting back and laid off workers.
She and Warhola recalled that row houses once lined the streets and the smell of vinegar from the next door Heinz plant wafted over the neighborhood. Mullin’s was once a tough neighborhood bar, but Jimmy Mull demolished the original building after a flood damaged it in the 1990s and built the current diner, according to his daughter.
“There’s nothing here anymore,” Mullin said. “I’m sure my dad would sell it.”
It’s a different story directly across the river where Peduto said $500 million in development is underway or being planned.
Kutzer said it would be several years before Buncher’s Strip District property is fully developed.
He said the Edge 1909 complex along Waterfront Drive is finished and its 365 apartments units are nearly fully leased.
Townhouses are under construction across Waterfront from Edge and 33 of the 46 total units have been sold. The company is keeping 13 in reserve, Kutzer said.
Construction on two apartment buildings along Waterfront near the 16th Street Bridge are scheduled to be underway by August. They will total 425 apartments and include a parking garage next to the bridge, Kutzer said. As part of that project, Buncher intends to complete a riverfront trail between 16th and 19th streets. The company completed trail renovations two years ago between 19th and 21st streets, Kutzer said.
The District 15 building at 15th Street and Smallman is finished and will be leased by Facebook. RDC Star LLC is planning an expansion that will be double the size of the existing office building, Kutzer said. Construction is scheduled to start in August.
Construction on the landmark Produce Terminal stretching along Smallman from 16th to 21st streets began last month along with the work on a former warehouse directly across the street. Chicago-based McCaffery Interests is planning to rehabilitate the terminal for retail businesses and the old warehouse for offices. The company is building a parking garage next to the warehouse.
Only five available pads remain on Buncher’s Strip District property. Kutzer said one of them near the Hampton Inn & Suites on Smallman is being considered for an office building.
“It was challenging,” he said of the Strip District. “To see it happening, it’s exciting.”
Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, [email protected] or via Twitter .