Smallman today
Smallman Street today. The Produce Terminal, which would be redeveloped by McCaffery Interests, is to the right. Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Planning Department.

A new addition to the Strip District skyline will break ground in 2019.

This week, the New Jersey-based property developer Rugby Realty won court approval to move ahead with its plans for two mixed-use office buildings on a vacant plot of land the company owns on the corner of Smallman Street and 21st St.

The land, directly across the street from the Strip’s iconic terminal building where Contemporary Craft is located, is being developed by Rugby Realty in partnership with the Lawrenceville-based architecture firm Desmone Architects.

With the court’s approval, the project developers say they will begin construction next year, with an eye toward having the two building complexes finished within two years. The buildings will add a combined 400,000 square feet of office space to the Strip District.

While the Pittsburgh Zoning Board of Adjustment had approved the overall plan in March of this year, they denied the firm’s request to exceed local height restrictions, a decision that Rugby appealed to the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas.

Under current zoning laws, the maximum height allowed for property in the Strip is 60 feet. The towers Rubgy proposed will be closer to 108 feet tall.

In his opinion, Judge Joseph James wrote that the office spaces are sufficiently far away from local residences and “will not create a detrimental impact to those properties through traffic caused by additional height and density.”

Controlling the heights of new construction on the city’s riverfront property was among the key goals of the RIV Ordinance, a package of riverfront zoning reforms passed in July of this year.

Other builders in the region, such as Oxford Development which is in the midst of construction on seven riverfront acres in the Strip, have expressed concerns that RIV’s height restrictions and limits on surface parking were too restrictive to spur the kind of ambitious riverfront development the city is looking for.

In addition to setting standards for how close new businesses can build around existing riverfront property, the RIV legislation changes the zoning process to include “bonus points” for projects that include affordable housing or amenities like public trails and public art, meaning builders can gain exceptions for being civic-minded.

Speaking to NEXTpittsbugh, Mike Lee, president of the Strip District Neighbors community group, says that the offices, townhouses and other developments like it represent a “tipping point” in the larger redevelopment of the neighborhood.

As projects like the Smallman Street resurfacing effort and the Produce Terminal redevelopment gather steam, other private developments are inspired to jumpstart their own work.

“You’re seeing more and more people start to execute their plans,” Lee says.

Bill O'Toole

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.