With all the development going on in the Strip District right now, it’s hard to stand out. The 219-unit Helm on the Allegheny, which just broke ground on Wednesday, might be easy to spot.

“The building almost looks like a ship, like a cruise liner coming out of the Allegheny,” says Brandon Guy of SteelStreet Capital Partners, which is working on Helm with Oxford Development. “That wasn’t necessarily our intent when we designed it, but it kind of took on a life of its own. We thought it was appropriate, being on the water.”

Working from a long, slim parcel of land next to The Cork Factory, it’s a fairly traditional design when viewed from Railroad Street.

“As you begin to move back towards the riverfront, the sides of it begin to orient into a sawtooth-type shape that tapers as it gets back to the river,” explains Guy. “The reason it does that is to orient the balconies towards the river.”

Of the total units, 81 percent will have private balconies with views of the Allegheny.

Helm on the Allegheny also brings something new to the residential market: co-living with 32 apartments, arranged in two 16-unit “neighborhoods.”

“It’s essentially an interconnected social living space,” says Guy. “Each of those 16 living units is fully self-contained. It has a private sleeping area, private bedroom and kitchen with a secure access door. So the tenants have their privacy. You’re not sharing bathrooms with anyone or anything — it’s your space.”

“Those smaller units circle a two-story common core. That includes things like a private rooftop terrace, a chef’s kitchen with appliances that are significantly higher-end than you’d see in a typical apartment unit, a multipurpose dining room that can be reconfigured for workshops or potlucks or whatever … There’s a media lounge, a bar/game room with a wet bar, and a conference room as well.”

Co-living is offered at a lower price point, ranging from $995-1,280 per unit. The 154 market-rate units have yet to be determined, but Guy sees a range between $1,300-1,700. The 33 other conventional units will be designated as affordable, though a price hasn’t been decided.

The total cost of the development is $53.7 million, with an opening scheduled for the third quarter of 2021.

The design is by WTW Architects. Located next to The Cork Factory — which began the current boom in Strip District living — the site was previously used largely for parking for consumer produce trucks and a valet service. Before that, it was a rail yard and lumberyard.

“We knew that this was a challenging parcel to work on,” says Guy. “We also knew we wanted to do something that wasn’t simply a box with some windows. It would have been easier to fall back on orthogonal, traditional styles of architecture. We would have saved a lot of money doing that. We really wanted something that not only had a little design to it but really integrated itself with that riverfront.”

In addition to some construction delays, the pandemic has had an effect on the project.

“For example, in our common spaces, we have no recycled air,” says Guy. “The air brought into those spaces is fresh air. We’re reviewing touchless technologies in elevators, alternate door pulls — elbow pulls, foot pulls, things like that. We’re working with property management to refine cleaning schedules that can be both broadly applied — more cleaning overall — and more surgically applied.”

The Strip District continues to boom, pandemic or not. Guy sees limitless potential for the neighborhood.

“There’s not a whole lot of markets that I know of that have such a large strip of land adjacent to a body of water, that’s right next to one of the largest regional job hubs — where we’ve seen such a small amount of development for so long.”

River trail outside Helm on the Allegheny. Rendering courtesy of Oxford Development.

“We’re seeing continuous interest from employers to locate offices here despite the coronavirus … A lot of tech companies, a lot of businesses, they know the Strip as one of the hotter hubs here in Pittsburgh. People are clamoring to be here.”

The presence of world-class companies like Apple, Petuum, Argo AI and Uber is generating demand for housing.

Guy has lived in the Strip for four years and has seen the changes firsthand, even in that short period of time.

Four years ago, “I’d take my dog out for a walk, and maybe see a handful of people,” notes Guy. “Now, it’s really been transformed. Now, there are people all over the place at all hours of the day. Even today, whether it’s going for a drink at Cinderlands on their outdoor patio, or at Pizza Davide getting a slice, or even heading down to the Penn Avenue retail corridor on the weekend, which is surprisingly busy despite the coronavirus. I think it really speaks to the hearts and the heritage that this community is built around. We think there’s still a lot of room for growth here.”

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.