Downtown Pittsburgh
Downtown Pittsburgh

Even if you’re not planning to live there, the people working on developing Downtown Pittsburgh are betting you’ll go there more often in 2019.

Although housing and transportation got brief mentions, visitors at today’s Pittsburgh Downtown Community Development Corporation (PDCDC) forum heard primarily about the role of entertainment venues and retail in fueling Downtown’s progress.

Downtown CDC Executive Director John Valentine made the case for more small-footprint theaters and art spaces to spread economic activity, and nightlife, to less developed parts of the neighborhood.

Don Carter, director of urban design at CMU’s Remaking Cities Institute, and a member of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust board, echoed that message.

In addition to plans for a magic theater, the Trust and PDCDC will roll out plans for developing 10 new music venues Downtown over the course of 2019. (Stay tuned for more details coming later this week.)

During the event, titled the Northwest Bank Developers Forum, panelists also touched on a wide range of issues ranging from expanding affordable housing to filling the area’s vacant properties, as well as several new and ongoing initiatives meant to revitalize the neighborhood.

An effective retail strategy, said Allegheny County Economic Development Director Lance Chimka, is a vital piece to solving the revitalization puzzle.

When it comes to rebuilding downtown retail, Chimka says the city shouldn’t wait on the return of large general supply stores. Rather, policy and goals should be designed around encouraging smaller boutique shops that have an “experiential element.” (One recent example: PG&H)

Valentine agreed and singled out the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation for their success in restoring older buildings in collaboration with local small businesses.

And County Executive Rich Fitzgerald returned several times to the theme of building better transit options, such as bus and bike lanes, to attract new populations. “That’s what the younger people want,” he said. “That’s what the tech community wants.”

To that end, the city and county will be collaborating on a network of rapid transit bus lanes that will give the rest of the city quick and dependable access to Downtown. Construction is expected to begin sometime this year.

Michael Polite, chairman and CEO of the development company Ralph A. Falbo, Inc., sounded bullish about the prospects of building more affordable housing Downtown, saying that city and state tax incentives and credits would be able to cover much of the cost. “We can do it within programs that already exist,” he said.

Polite went on to tease several new, affordable housing developments his company is working on in other corners of the city, such as the East End and Lincoln-Lemington-Belmar.

Look for further coverage on these and many other Downtown projects in NEXTpittsburgh over the coming weeks.

Bill O'Toole

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