With the massive, five-block Terminal redevelopment in the Strip District on its way to completion this fall, the same developer has plucked a nearby piece of land for future development.
Chicago-based McCaffery Interests has acquired a 3.5-acre site adjacent to the former produce terminal from Rugby Realty, a New Jersey-based developer that had planned the $80 million Brickworks office development on the spot.
“The seller had approved plans, but we may take a second look at them,” says Dan McCaffery, CEO of McCaffery Interests. “I don’t think it’s wise to start something new today — just hold on for a while, and monitor progress of the city, the area, everything.”
The purchase price was $19.5 million for the land along Smallman St., from 21st to 23rd streets, east of the Terminal building. It was once home to Tom Ayoob, Inc. and Benkovitz Seafoods, and is across the street from St. Stanislaus Kostka Church.
It will remain parking for the time being. “I think that’s one of the uses,” says McCaffery. “The merchants in the Strip will appreciate that.”
McCaffery got in on the ground floor in the Strip District’s boom. “We started there with The Cork Factory, and it was not as energetic as it is today,” says McCaffery. “People took the lead from us and built other apartment buildings, condominiums and these new townhouses. It’s now a vibrant part of the city. Very, very close to amenities.
“If you take the Strip District, it’s so proximate to Downtown, it’s so proximate to the sports facilities, it’s so proximate to everything — and yet it’s got its own vibe. Young people like that.”
McCaffery Interests also owns 1600 Smallman St, a warehouse building across from the Terminal Building which is undergoing development as office space.
The Terminal building itself is making progress, McCaffery says, with new tenants expected to be announced soon for the 157,000 square feet of space.
“We got a little kick in the posterior with this pandemic, but it’s coming along really well,” says McCaffery. “We have a tremendous amount of interest, but not a lot signed at the moment. It’s getting easier now.”
The categories of general merchandise and eatertainment (food plus some sort of entertainment) are the focus.
“All of the places that have those establishments are under considerable stress right now,” says McCaffery. “Asking them, ‘Hey, buddy, I’d like you to expand your business’ — it’s slightly unrealistic, it’s slightly unfair. They’re all fighting their own battles right now, which you have to respect.”
A food market is still planned for the western end of the Terminal, he notes. “We’re in talks with three. Food markets have a different problem. People are eating at home more than ever before. Their business is … doing exceptionally well. It’s kind of the opposite of the guy who wants to open a restaurant, who’s trying to figure out where his next customer is coming from.”
One thing that McCaffery wants to emphasize is that there’s still a place for the locally-owned small businesses that make the Strip what it is. The neighborhood is one of, if not the most-loved in Pittsburgh, and many have expressed concern that the recent increase in development there will change its nature. Chicken Latino, a popular restaurant across from Pamela’s just moved to Beechview after a rent increase. And last year, Contemporary Craft moved from its corner location at the former Produce Terminal building to upper Lawrenceville where the nonprofit renovated a building it now owns.
“I’d like people to know we have programs to help enterprising locals get a foothold in the Strip District,” says McCaffery. “I would encourage all locals to contact us. I think the character of the Strip is enriched every time we engage with a local. So, I’m doing my best to ensure local representation is very high. Whether it’s a local barbershop or shoe repair guy, those are important to the quality of life in a city.”