Downtown’s Smithfield Cafe site has been abandoned for more than a decade. We featured it in a story about Pittsburgh’s most inexplicably abandoned buildings a few years ago — and described it as “looking like an ashtray full of cigarette butts that nobody’s ever going to empty,” which was being generous.

It’s taken a long time, but it looks like this property — which includes an eight-story building that famed architect Frederick Osterling was hired to design to replace a grocery that burned down in 1897, along with two smaller adjoining properties — is going to finally have a purpose once again.

Smithfield Custom Condos is bringing an unusual concept of customizable residential units (and retail/restaurant space) to this long-neglected site at 635 Smithfield St.

Frederick Osterling designed the 19th-century building on Smithfield Street. Photo courtesy of Thomas Bost.

“People can get a unit from 1,700 square feet all the way up to 10,000 square feet,” says Thomas Bost of Bost Development, noting that buyers can take a half-floor or even two entire floors if they want it.

“You’ve got people that want larger condo units to live in; 2,500 to 3,000 square feet is usually the top end of the condos that are available (Downtown).”

Buyers will get a “core and shell,” which includes the plumbing, electrical and other infrastructure, and a restored exterior. Bost will then provide access to architects and designers to finish the interiors — the cost of which will be completely covered by the new owners.

Prices for the core and shell will start at about $725,000, and Bost hopes to pre-sell half the units to help finance the project. The development will ultimately have between six and 12 condo owners. No timeline has been set.

Each floor also will have its own deck/patio space, added to the side of the eight-story building.

“You can have an outdoor kitchen,” says Bost. “Or you can grow herbs and garden a bit. Or you can do something for your pet, maybe put in a little bit of grass. Everyone sort of has their own different idea of what they want to use that space for.”

The two-story Smithfield Cafe building isn’t salvageable, says Bost, and will be replaced by a modern one-story retail space, perfect for a restaurant. There will be about 5,000 square feet of ground-floor retail total.

The entire project will cost about $8 million and is being marketed by the Lori Bost Team at Howard Hanna. Wildman Chalmers Design is the architect.