The Ohringer Building could tell the history of Braddock.
Once an eight-story furniture store, a beacon of commerce along the bustling Braddock Avenue business corridor, the long-vacant building will reopen late this summer after a $10 million renovation. The residential project includes 37 affordable-rate artist residences including studios and one-bedroom units.
“The community has spoken and I’ve taken their convictions to heart,” says developer Gregg Kander. “Changemakers are wanted. Artists reflective of Braddock’s long-standing diversity are essential.”
Prospective artist residents will be screened by a committee of diverse Braddock stakeholders.
“Think of this project as anti-gentrification,” says Kander. “It’s not about building housing for 37 artists. It’s about rebuilding a thriving, diverse community. The real mission is transformation with the existing community’s participation.”
“The units are really going to be beautiful, with high ceilings, great views and a shared rooftop deck,” Kander tells NEXTpittsburgh. The first floor will house communal rooms and a commercial space.
“I plan on donating the 2,000 square feet of retail space rent-free for at least a year to the Ohringer tenants for their use and to cooperatively determine the best use for them and the community,” Kander adds.
Despite the delay caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Kander says the building should be open by late summer or early fall.
The Squirrel Hill lawyer-turned-developer commissioned a new, 70-foot-tall Ohringer sign to adorn the side of the building.
While the building is Braddock’s second tallest structure, next to the steel mill, it is only 40 feet wide. Hallways are located in the middle of each floor so multiple units have windows overlooking Braddock Avenue.
Geoff Campbell, the principal on the project, notes that “Braddock is about forging this new future but not ignoring its past. We’re taking a building at the heart of what used to be a thriving business community and bringing it back to life.”
Kander was instrumental as an investor in the development of the highly regarded Superior Motors site across the street from U.S. Steel’s Edgar Thomson Works mill.
“When Gregg first mentioned the idea I was ecstatic and a little weary. My first worry was that people who weren’t from the community would end up in this beautiful space, as that’s the first community complaint any time new housing comes to town,” Braddock Mayor Chardaé Jones says.
“After a few meetings with Gregg, he totally eased my worries by ensuring that Braddock artists would live in the Ohringer building,” Jones added. “Not only is Gregg invested in Braddock’s art revitalization but he’s invested in the community as a whole. What impressed me most about him is that he saw the opportunity for this space and seized it … It’s not my nature to believe in projects but I believe in the people behind them.’
Councilwoman Tina Doose, who has lived in Braddock for nearly 30 years, said the project also will support the municipality’s greatest revenue source — its tax base.
“I think the fact that we’re going to attract artists, identify housing and, on top of that, get commercial space — that will be important to revitalizing our avenue,” Doose said.
Business owners are also excited by the prospect of new neighbors in an iconic building.
Evan Indianer moved Unicentric, his “software-as-a-service” company, from the Strip District to Braddock about four years ago. “for such a small community, a lot happens.”
“I think the more people that are attracted to Braddock, that live, work and even play in Braddock, is wonderful,” said Indianer, who lives in Squirrel Hill. “People are betting on this community and, with these construction projects, it’s really a statement of the vitality and future of Braddock.”