by Jeff Worsinger
Millcraft Industries and the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh announced recently that Millcraft will build a 15 story building on the south side of Forbes Avenue between Market Square and Wood Street in downtown Pittsburgh. In this building there will be a 175 room limited-service hotel, about 25,000 square feet of office space, ground level retail and restaurants, and onsite parking.
This would seem to be great news for one of the last remaining blighted streets in Pittsburgh's Golden Triangle. Further, the street has some of the only vacant lots in downtown Pittsburgh, and the buildings that are targeted for replacement do not at first glance appear to be of great historical significance.
So why are there no cartwheels over this announcement?
In a word: housing. Or, rather, the lack of it. That there are no residential units in this proposal is puzzling and disappointing. Over the last few years several new and rehabbed condominium and apartment units have been added in downtown. In large part as a result of this, the residential population downtown has reportedly doubled over the past 10 years. There are now more than 7000 people who call downtown home.
Urban theory and logic say that more people living in downtown will maintain desirable street traffic on weekends and in the evening, when office workers have gone home to outlying neighborhoods and distant suburbs. This theory appears sound. When you think of cities with a vibrant street life and lots of great places to eat, drink, and congregate, places like New York, Boston, and San Francisco all come to mind. All of these cities have plenty of residents in their respective central business districts.
By many measures downtown Pittsburgh is much livelier today than at any time in its recent history. The many performing arts spaces, galleries, restaurants, and coffee shops that have opened in the last two decades have created a demand for living space. Further, these additional residents demand (and support) more retail, restaurant, and cultural options that everyone in greater Pittsburgh can enjoy.
It would be good to see all new development include at least some residential units. Even just a couple dozen apartments as part of this new development would create both a stronger demand for whatever retail and restaurants eventually open there, and would mean more people roaming around downtown on nights and weekends. People walking their dogs, going on romantic strolls, bicycling along the river trails, and generally being involved neighbors help make a downtown great. This in turn impresses the visitors who will be using this new hotel and creates more entertainment options for them. It's win-win for everybody.
Millcraft has redeveloped the former Macy's department store and the former G.C. Murphy's around the corner from this proposed development. Both projects involved adding condo and apartment units to the buildings. They are also preparing to turn the former Pennsylvania state office building just a few blocks away into over 200 apartments. Millcraft already understands the value of having residents as neighbors as part of their work downtown. Why are they excluding them in this case?
This project is in its inception stage. It is to be hoped that all parties involved will vet this project and realize the value of including living space before ground is broken, and so create an even better project than is currently planned.