Esplanade rendering courtesy of AE7.

The gears are finally in motion for some of the most transformational developments in Pittsburgh’s history. Quite a few projects that were merely architectural renderings for a long time are on their way to becoming actual places this coming year.

Some projects remain speculative and local opposition may force major changes or block them entirely. Some are on the bubble — such as Carrie Furnace and the Esplanade — but are advancing.

Several major projects that have been completed since the last time we covered this topic: Bakery Square and the Strip District Terminal (though they’re still adding tenants and amenities).

So here’s where we think Pittsburgh is going to be growing in 2022:

Rendering  of First National Bank headquarters courtesy of Gensler.
Rendering  of First National Bank headquarters courtesy of Gensler.

Lower Hill

The once vibrant Hill District was severed from Downtown by the Civic Arena and its oceans of asphalt parking lots that sparked decades of decline. Now, the city has a chance to right this historical injustice and reconnect Downtown with its closest neighbor.

This slow-moving behemoth has made advances that will start to show this year if you count the park-like “cap” over I-579 — which has just been completed and will become green this spring. There are mountains of dirt at the former Civic Arena site that are moving, too, as the 26-story, $240 million headquarters tower for First National Bank (FNB) becomes the most obvious component of this development and the newest addition to the Pittsburgh skyline.

More than 1,000 residential units are planned, as well as a major music venue operated by Live Nation, a hotel, and 190,000 square feet of retail. Decades of contentious negotiations have yielded a commitment from the site’s owner (the Penguins), the developer (Buccini/Pollin Group) and FNB to invest up to $40 million into the rest of the Hill District.

Rendering of Mill 19 at Hazelwood Green (a hub for local robotics) courtesy of RIDC.

Hazelwood Green, Hazelwood

If you want a glimpse of Pittsburgh’s future, encased inside the rusting remnants of its past, look no further than Hazelwood Green. Three of the city’s biggest foundations made a big bet on this gigantic, polluted, abandoned steel mill property more than a decade ago — and it is paying off. Mill 19, the massive LTV Steel remnant, now contains offices for tech firms and nonprofits, such as Carnegie Mellon University’s Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute and Manufacturing Futures Initiative. It already features the country’s biggest single-roof solar installation. Another repurposed property, the Roundhouse, is fully occupied by a Silicon Valley-based tech incubator with international reach.

Just recently, the Richard King Mellon Foundation donated $100 million to the University of Pittsburgh to create a life sciences BioForge on the site, a specialized manufacturing facility that makes therapeutics to treat disease. It’s expected to be between 200,000 and 250,000 square feet and will house Pitt researchers working on things like gene and engineered cell therapy, microneedles and other novel therapeutics and delivery technologies, along with the development of micro- and nano-antibodies. It will also be a hub for life sciences startups and established companies that want to bring their supply chains for production closer to home. Another massive donation from the Richard King Mellon Foundation will catalyze the development of a new $100 million Robotics Innovation Center, run by world-leading scientists at Carnegie Mellon.

The public plaza Hazelwood Green is complete, featuring lush green lawns and 16,000 square feet of granite, with the slabs forming slanted sheets over which water gently flows into a basin. Eventually there are plans for a 1.9-mile pedestrian and bike trail, a riverfront park, and hundreds of thousands of square feet of housing and office space to fill this vast 178-acre site, which will reconnect the neighborhood of Hazelwood to the Monongahela River.

Rendering of the Esplanade courtesy of Millcraft.

Esplanade, North Side

It’s anyone’s guess as to when ground will be broken for this ambitious mega-development from Millcraft, which will transform the Ohio riverfront north of Rivers Casino into a live/work/play destination marked by a massive Ferris wheel.

The Ferris wheel is just the cherry on top here — but fitting, because Pittsburgher George Ferris invented the Ferris wheel for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, and we somehow still don’t have one in the city. However, the meat on the bones of this project is a staggering reinvention of a riverfront that has been vacant and/or industrial for most of its history. The plan includes a 45,000-square-foot pavilion with a courtyard/winter garden, a splash park (that turns to an ice skating spot), a 300-unit apartment building (with affordable and market-rate units), a 550-space public parking garage, an amphitheater, and a relocation of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail.

And that’s just the first ($236 million) phase. Further phases will include an aquarium, 300,000 square feet of office/lab space and a hotel.

Plans keep evolving, but the vital first step of purchasing the vacant properties from the URA has been completed. The Esplanade has a big advantage over other massive development plans (Oakland Crossings, in particular), in that it faces little public opposition since Chateau is almost entirely warehouses and factories, with only a handful of residents. It’s also led by one of the city’s most experienced developers, Millcraft, which tends to see projects through methodically.

Rendering of the arrivals hall in Pittsburgh International Airport’s new terminal courtesy of Gensler + HDR in association with Luis Vidal + Architects.
Rendering of the arrivals hall in Pittsburgh International Airport’s new terminal courtesy of Gensler + HDR in association with Luis Vidal + Architects.

Pittsburgh International Airport, Moon

Status: liftoff. The one development on our list outside city limits, this sustainable, high-tech terminal is the first major airport terminal in the country built for a post-pandemic world.

Pittsburgh International Airport plans to go from an outmoded hub for long-departed US Airways to an upgraded facility designed for current needs, at a price tag of $1.1 billion. The existing landside terminal will be demolished, and the people mover will be eliminated. At the moment, there are six gigantic cranes and massive drills preparing the ground for the 700,000-square-foot terminal. Most of the steel will come from Sippel Steel Fab in nearby Ambridge, and 5,500 construction workers will work on the project. (PIT already has its own fully-operational microgrid, using solar and on-site natural gas to provide energy for the airport.) The opening date is slated for 2025.

Nearby, the Neighborhood 91 innovation campus is getting off the ground as part of a partnership with the University of Pittsburgh and industry players like Wabtec, Cumberland Additive and Arencibia. The complex will focus on attracting additive manufacturing (such as 3D printing) companies and will, at full build-out, include 1.4 million square feet of office and manufacturing space.

Rendering of Rockwell Park courtesy of JLL.

Rockwell Park, Point Breeze

This forlorn industrial zone of massive, decaying brick factories in North Point Breeze was once a hub for innovation — home to industrial giants such as Rockwell, MSA and Emerson Electric. Now, plans are moving forward to transform the site into something similar for the new economy. The eight-building campus will include 800,000 square feet of updated offices, advanced manufacturing space, restaurants and retail. The industrial buildings will be repurposed to as Class-A and tech-flex space.

“My father worked at Rockwell in that building in the 1960s,” says Jason Stewart, managing director of JLL, which is handling the office leasing. “Here we are repopulating Pittsburgh’s industrial past, with Pittsburgh’s research-based new economy.”

Rockwell Park has already secured several major tenants from Pittsburgh’s booming startup scene, including M*Modal, which uses speech recognition and AI to help doctors streamline cumbersome documentation processes (M*Modal was acquired by Minnesota industrial giant 3M which is perhaps best-known now for making N95 masks). Additional tenants include educational robot company BirdBrain Technologies and Near Earth Autonomy, which is building an autonomous self-flying helicopter (among other things). The site does have some drama — CMU’s theatre department is here, too. Adjacent amenities like the East End Food Co-op and Construction Junction are expected to stay.

The Highline (formerly known as the Terminal Buildings). Photo courtesy of McKnight Realty Partners.

The Highline, South Side

In 1906, this enormous 868,000-square-foot red-brick warehouse complex was built to be the biggest, most efficient shipping hub between New York City and Chicago. Now, it’s being remade into industrial-style office space, with an elevated green space headed toward the river, offering some terrific views of the Liberty Bridge and Downtown with another public plaza below on ground level. A retail component is coming along as well, including Burgh’ers Brewing, de Fer Coffee & Tea, Unison Bike Lab, Anytime Fitness, and Sly Fox Brewing Co. The project’s estimated cost is $100 million. The Highline was named the Best Mixed Use Development by NAIOP Pittsburgh and the Urban Land Institute (ULI), and developer McKnight Realty Partners was selected by ULI as Placemaker of the Year.

And that’s only the first part of the project. The first building is complete, but the east building (another 250,000 square feet) and the Powerhouse building facing the river (15,000 square feet) are next.

Nearby, the $70 million Glasshouse project has been completed, bringing 320 apartments to a former parking lot near Station Square, which is itself seeing signs of life after a long period of relative decline.

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,...