Construction is barreling ahead across the city. From hydropower projects to Strip District housing and a wellness center at the University of Pittsburgh, there are a lot of interesting things in the works:
Something in the water
You don’t have to build the Hoover Dam to get power from water.
Instead of building giant dams, Rye Development and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will take advantage of some that already exist: the Montgomery Lock and Dam (Beaver County), Emsworth Lock and Dam (near Neville Island) and Allegheny River Lock and Dam #2 (near the Highland Park Bridge). These three projects have moved into the final engineering, procurement and design stages.
The projects, which will break ground next year, will cost $250-$300 million and create 150 to 200 construction jobs. The concrete structures and hydroelectric turbines will mostly be underwater and not visible.
The University of Pittsburgh has reached a long-term agreement to buy power from the dams, as has Allegheny County.
Strip District adding housing
When people think of the Strip District, they’re mostly thinking about a few blocks along Smallman Street crowded with independent grocers, restaurants and bootleg Steelers vendors. That’s only a fraction of the neighborhood, though.
The Strip District has become one of the city’s hottest housing markets in recent years. Before the Cork Factory Lofts opened in 2007 in the Armstrong Cork Company building (built in 1901), there were only a few hundred residents in the neighborhood. Now there are thousands.
And more housing is coming, including an 84-unit residential development at 2926 Smallman St. and a 179-unit building at 50 26th St.
The Smallman Street development replaces a parking lot with a seven-story building that alternates white brick and black metal panels from NEXT architecture. There’s a rooftop deck, of course, and a car elevator in the back, which is unusual.
The building at 50 26th St. is from Hullett Properties, which sold out its 27-unit development (with James Cafe on the ground floor) a few blocks away. The project requires the demolition of J. Harris & Sons’ two-story warehouse on the site. Indovina Associates Architects created the design, whose 90-foot height is augmented by green features, like features that capture stormwater and native species plantings.
There will be up to seven retail spaces on the first floor — which is good urban design, but maybe a bit ambitious, considering how many of the new construction retail spaces nearby are vacant.
New face on Robotics Row
Pittsburgh’s reputation as a worldwide center for robotics is still growing.
That’s what drew Tesseract Solutions — a French software development company that specializes in creating easy-to-use code programming for robots — to town. The company is setting up its first office and American headquarters in Lawrenceville, part of the “Robotics Row” that spans the Strip District. The division will be known as KMeleon.
“It was an obvious choice, as Pittsburgh is the robotics capital of the world with an extremely strong and supportive robotics ecosystem,” says Tesseract CEO Florian Dordain. “This ecosystem includes assets like the Pittsburgh Robotics Network, the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) Institute and Carnegie Mellon University, among others. Pittsburgh is a place where connecting with people and establishing business relationships is easy.”
“France has been investing heavily, over the last several years, in cultivating a strong ecosystem of tech companies, with the U.S. as a key market for growth,” says Mark Anthony Thomas, president of the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance.
Tesseract hasn’t announced where the Lawrenceville office will be or how many people it will employ.
Recreation and wellness hub for Pitt
The University of Pittsburgh continues its decades-long evolution into The Creature that Ate Oakland, with the groundbreaking of a gigantic Campus Recreation and Wellness Center.
The former O’Hara Garage will become 275,000 square feet of space for dining, a natatorium, gymnasiums, offices and an elevated walking and jogging track.
“It’s important to support students from an academic perspective but also to help improve other aspects of their lives,” says Audrey Collins, a third-year doctoral student and a student representative from Pitt’s Department of Health and Human Development.
These sorts of buildings are considered essential for attracting students, and there’s a real arms race for amenities going on right now. (And to think — my school had cigarette dispensers in the dorm lobbies).
“Exercise is something I need to do every day for my day to feel complete,” says Ashley Choi, a senior psychology major. An active member of Pitt Crew, the university’s competitive rowing team, she says exercise “relieves stress and helps with my confidence in my body and mind.”
The center is expected to open in 2024 and create more than 1,000 jobs.