The view from Branding Brand's Strip District offices. Photo courtesy of Branding Brand.

From the window of her new office in Burns White Center in the Strip District, Christina Koshzow can watch people walk the riverfront trail as crew teams glide along the Allegheny River. Across the water, she can see the historic H.J. Heinz factory and behind it, the hospital where she was born.

“There is something magical about being in an area that so elegantly merges the city’s past and present,” says Koshzow, co-founder and chief marketing officer of Branding Brand, which builds mobile commerce apps for retailers.

With 70 employees, the company outgrew its space on the South Side and relocated this fall to the fourth floor of the Burns White law firm’s headquarters at Oxford Development’s 3 Crossings.

Photo courtesy of Branding Brand.

“It is important that companies give their employees a chance to become involved in and positively impact their communities,” Koshzow says. “Positioning ourselves in the Strip District helps Branding Brand do this.”

The location, she says, “is central to where our employees live. So even though we offer free parking and public transportation passes, many Branders now choose to bike or walk to work.” The company also offers its employees free catered lunch every day by partnering with local restaurants.

A bonus is that the LEED-certified building on a former brownfield site is dog-friendly and has a gym and access to the new riverfront trail — all things that help to reinforce a healthy work-life balance, Koshzow says.

Branding Brand and Voci Technologies, which also leases space in Burns White Center, are among the latest companies to locate in the Strip District. They join Aspinity, Bossa Nova Robotics and Blue Belt Technologies, among many others.

Earlier this year, Kingfly Spirits opened its distillery and craft cocktail bar at 2613 Smallman St. and Cinderlands Beer Co. opened its second location, Cinderlands Warehouse, in the renovated former Spaghetti Warehouse site at 2601 Smallman. The Hub parking facility opened right behind the two businesses.

Now, Honeywell International, the Charlotte, N.C.-based conglomerate that operates a voice technology business in Penn Hills, is preparing to locate a new advanced technology center at 3 Crossings, in space once occupied by German tech giant Bosch. Honeywell says seasoned robotics executive Joseph Lui will lead the operation to develop next-generation warehouse robotics.

“Robotics and other tech-savvy companies go where they can recruit the right types of talent,” says Tim White, senior vice president for development with the Regional Industrial Development Corporation (RIDC), which has repurposed vacant industrial facilities. “The autonomous vehicle companies on Robotics Row, including Caterpillar, Aurora, Argo AI and Uber, have all utilized tech-flex space, a new building category created to meet their unique needs” for office, research and light manufacturing space.

Last year, Facebook confirmed its artificial intelligence team’s move to District 15 at 15th and Smallman. And Bombardier Transportation signed a long-term lease to relocate several business divisions from West Mifflin to One Waterfront Place, the Strip’s original tech space built 16 years ago for Seagate Technology.

At the time, Mayor Bill Peduto told Grant Street Associates, which negotiated the deal, that Bombardier’s move is “a great addition to the city’s booming transportation and technology sectors and is a perfect fit with the fabric of the Strip District.”

Indeed, the neighborhood’s character has continued to morph over the past two years from its recent past as a warehouse district with small retailers to a place for technology startups, R&D firms and growing companies. Not to mention the many apartment, condo and townhouse developments springing up.

Burns White LLC wanted to be part of that early on, when it relocated 177 employees in 2017 from the North Shore to its modern, collaborative workspace that challenges the traditional law firm model.

“Moving our headquarters to Pittsburgh’s iconic Strip District was part of our vision for the firm’s future growth and success,” says David B. White, executive committee member. “We recognized the potential for the neighborhood to become one of the city’s most dynamic entrepreneurial hubs and wanted to play a role in its transformation. We’re very happy with our decision.”

That’s not to say that the Strip’s small retailers, many of them in the historic district along Penn Avenue, no longer are welcome, says Matt Napper, president of Strip District Neighbors.

“It’s an exciting time to be in the Strip District. There’s a lot of new development. There are a lot of businesses interested in Pittsburgh, and it’s great to have our neighborhood be a focal point of this development,” Napper says. “We look at this as a benefit for existing businesses on Penn Avenue; they complement them and can bring core action to the area.”

Plenty of people have expressed concern, from business owners along Penn Avenue to long-time residents, to those who simply love the Strip District — especially the shopping district — the way it is.

The activity will only pick up next year, when McCaffery, Inc. is expected to complete its $100 million renovation of the Strip’s iconic Produce Terminal, for retail and restaurants, and the 1600 Smallman warehouse across the street.

Napper acknowledges that some merchants are worried about the continuous development and changing nature of the Strip. But, “does any neighborhood really reach a saturation point for development? Neighborhoods and demographics can always change,” he says.

Athough the pace of change has some people nervous about the future, he says, “we’re living in a city that didn’t see any development or anything for almost 30 years. To see Pittsburgh and its transformation — as a whole, not just the Strip District — is something that was long overdue.”

Sandra Tolliver

Sandra Tolliver is a freelance writer, editor and public relations professional in Upper St. Clair.