Photo courtesy of TREK Development Group.

The eagle has not landed. Yet. But everything else at Eighth & Penn is a go.

The Eagle Food & Beer Hall — a vast restaurant specializing in Southern-style fried chicken, opening this spring — will be the entry point for most people into the new Eighth & Penn development Downtown. But beyond the restaurant, this $47 million, 136-apartment project is one of the more significant Downtown developments in recent years.

Eighth & Penn. Photo by Mike Machosky.

And it could be truly impactful for this corner of the Cultural District.

The Eighth & Penn project, which transformed the McNally and Bonn buildings, was a complicated and unusual development, combining historic preservation and large-scale new construction.

“We took two turn-of-the-century structures and tried to meld them in a meaningful and appropriate way with a modern building. That’s a significant design and construction challenge. That’s where we think the benefits of the historic material far outweighs the challenges we experienced,” says TREK Development Group Founder, President and CEO Bill Gatti.

“Our historic buildings are really the only thing that connects us in a tangible way to the past,” Gatti tells NEXTpittsburgh. “Celebrating that history is important to us.”

The McNally and Bonn buildings were underutilized for many years.

“There had been retail establishments in there in recent years,” Gatti says, “but the upper floors were vacant for a long time.”

Along with those buildings, the development site also included two parking lots owned by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. That’s where the new construction is located.

Gatti says the combination of historic buildings and new construction “makes a much more significant architectural statement” and was a priority for TREK and their partners in the project, Q Development.

In assessing the current state of the block, Gatti is blunt.

“This corner of Eighth and Penn, this mid-block, has been dead for a long time,” he says. “This development, we believe, will create some much-needed vitality in this area. We’ve designed it in such ways that it will be catalytic for development in the area.”

Photo courtesy of TREK Development Group.

With 136 apartments, the project will bring a sizable group of residents to the street. And the restaurant, Gatti says, is like nothing else Downtown: “We think it’s going to be great for the pre-theater crowd, regular dining crowd, lunch crowd, everything,” he says.

Although the project includes historic touches like exposed brick walls, the design is sleek and modern. Photo courtesy of TREK Development Group.

The Eagle Food & Beer Hall will be 6,000 square feet and is owned by Cincinnati-based Thunderdome Restaurant Group, which also owns Bakersfield down the street on Penn Avenue.

“We wanted a restaurant partner that’s organized and that’s appealing to a broad range of people, a wide range of age and income,” says Gatti. (The food gets great reviews in Cincinnati. “The fried chicken and sides,” he tells us, “are universally loved.”)

Photo courtesy of TREK Development Group.

Among the distinctive features of Eighth & Penn is a pathway and “light bridge” illuminated by LED lights that cuts through the development, connecting Katz Plaza to Eighth Street.

It allows for a pedestrian connection through the building and is designed as another feature that may spark redevelopment in the area around the property.

And the copper-clad “jewel box” on the back of the building features rooftop access: “It’s 6,000 square feet of unobstructed green space in an urban setting,” says Gatti. “No equipment; it’s quiet and peaceful and unusual.”

Rents for the new apartments range from $1,125 for a studio and $2,400 for a two-bedroom unit to $5,000 for a three-bedroom unit. About 40% are rented already.

Photo courtesy of TREK Development Group.

“We believe it will set the tone for redevelopment of the Eighth Street block, where the Parking Authority recently demolished a garage,” Gatti says. “The Cultural Trust has a beautiful and elaborate master plan that involves — in addition to the Parking Authority’s garage, that will get rebuilt — developable sites along Penn, Eighth and along Ft. Duquesne on the riverfront. That will most likely be residential.”

With this under their belt, TREK Development Group is hoping to get going on the Garden Theater block, a long-troubled site on the North Side, in 2020. They’re also working on the Mellon’s Orchard South development in East Liberty, which is a mixed-income development conceived, Gatti says, “as a response to the Penn Plaza demolition.”

Michael Machosky

Michael Machosky is a writer and journalist with 18 years of experience writing about everything from development news, food and film to art, travel, books and music. He lives in Greenfield with his wife, Shaunna, and 10-year old son.