NEXTpittsburgh’s 2019 feature story about buildings that have been inexplicably abandoned for a long time in Pittsburgh generated a lot of responses. Readers pointed out that we overlooked the former PPG warehouse — later home to Easter Seals of Pennsylvania — located Downtown at 642 Fort Duquesne Blvd. Although the property faces the Allegheny River, it has been hiding in plain sight for a long time without a tenant for more than a decade.
Constructed in 1917, the nine-story building has been owned for years by Mt. Lebanon native Mark Cuban, star of “Shark Tank” and owner of the Dallas Mavericks. Various plans for the building have come and gone. Now, Douglas Development of Washington, D.C. is in the process of buying the building from Cuban, with plans to create 139 apartments.
The developer sees a demand for market-rate apartments in Pittsburgh’s central business district and likes the trajectory of Pittsburgh in general, says Phil Gardiner, manager of Douglas Development. “Pittsburgh has a young, diverse and growing workforce spun off from strong higher education, tech and medical industries that make it extremely attractive.”
It’s a sturdy building but needs a lot of work. It’s basically a “vacant shell” with an interior that has already been demolished, says Gardiner. But it’s still attractive, due to its “historic nature and fiber” — and potential to utilize historic tax credits.
“The existing windows are unique, original and historic,” says Gardiner. “They differ on almost every floor. They will be reconstructed and replicated using modern materials. Also, the third floor has 19-foot ceilings and will include loft-style, two-level units.”
The existing brick facade will be cleaned, repaired and repointed. New storefront windows will replace the existing garage doors.
Douglas Development plans to include amenities such as a rooftop lounge, fitness center, coworking space, and an outdoor area with a dog run — one of a number of pet-friendly features. Pittsburgh’s Strada Architecture, which is working on the design, has experience in adaptive reuse projects, such as the conversion of the former Schenley High School into residences, and the Distrikt Hotel, formerly the Downtown Salvation Army building.
The development is on the agenda to be discussed on Thursday, Jan. 13 at 5 p.m. during the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership’s Development Activities Meeting (via Zoom).