If Pittsburgh wants to achieve Mayor Bill Peduto's goal of bringing 20,000 new residents to the city by 2025, local stakeholders agree that the city needs to invest in both residential and infrastructure development to attract a more youthful population and dissuade citizens from choosing or moving to the suburbs.
Trying to bring thousands of new residents to Pittsburgh is no mean feat.The 2010 census showed the city's population dropping by 8.52 percent. But, since 2005, population decline has been reversed (according to IRS data). In fact, according to 2012 estimates by the Census bureau, the Steel City is up .2 percent since 2010. The demographics of the new population are trending younger and more educated.
“We have a lot of elements that make that goal of attracting 20,000 new residents achievable,” says Kevin Acklin, Peduto’s chief of staff and chief development officer, who is also chairman of the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). But, he adds, echoing a long-time Peduto theme, “it's clear to us that there are two Pittsburghs.” While the administration will be supporting the neighborhoods already seeing growth in businesses and housing, he says, “there are entire neighborhoods of the city that haven't seen investment in 50 years.”
Housing brings people who will, in turn, rebuild the city’s tax base. Acklin explains that part of the mayor’s vision is to focus on neighborhoods that haven’t seen recent housing development, or that don’t have enough residential properties.These neighborhoods include the Hill District, Homewood, Larimer, Sheraden and the North Side.
Another way to attract new residents is to re-purpose existing spaces and focusing on creating amenities.Thomas E. Cummings, the URA's director of housing, sees future housing efforts concentrated on the conversion of underused space in neighborhoods such as Downtown, the Strip and the South Side.
The URA's role as a conduit for state and federal tax credits available to housing developers will continue to be crucial.
“We'll have to work on both the demand and the supply side, using every tool at our disposal,” says Cummings. “We'll be aggressive in seeking low-income housing tax credits [and] trying to provide market-rate opportunities. It'll have to be a full-court press.”
One potential model for neighborhood redevelopment, which Acklin and others from the city toured in February, is Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, which resembles the Hill District in its history and potential. Cincinnati officials approached local corporate leadership and raised a revolving loan fund, resulting in boarded-up buildings being converted into coffee shops and doctors' offices in the formerly high-crime neighborhood. The effort is overseen by the nonprofit Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation, which over the past decade has funneled more than $717 million to the neighborhood and downtown to support mixed-use developments, preservation of historic streetscapes and mixed-income neighborhoods.
“It's a model we're looking at as a potential plan to focus investments,” says Acklin.
Acklin looks toward 2018 as a big opportunity for development efforts. In 2018, the city will have paid down enough of its debt to gain $40 million a year in its budget.
“The parallel track is working to retain employers and grow them,” he asserts.
Employees of growing companies look for urban amenities such as bike lanes, public transportation, sustainable architecture and green spaces.
“They want to be in a city that is reaching for greatness,” he says. “That influences our design policy as well. The days of suburban development in the city are over.”
There are already a host of developers doing admirable work: PMC Property Group of Philadelphia (of The Clark Building, Kenmawr Apartments, Penn Garrison Lofts, 201 Stanwix and others); Millcraft Investments of Washington, Pa. (developing its Fifth and Market project: Piatt Place, Market Square Place, The Gardens at Market Square and River Vue); downtown's TREK Development (creators of the Miller Lofts, as well as 72 rental townhouses and apartments in the Hill District), McCormack Baron Salazar of St. Louis (redeveloping the Civic Arena site), and Ralph Falbo (151 First Side condominiums).
He also sees Squirrel Hill's Summerset at Frick Park by The Rubinoff Company, as a great project. In fact, the URA just approved a proposal to expand the development.
“It's an easy, strong investment for us,” says Acklin. “It's one of the few areas of the city where we can create market-rate housing.”
Currently, the site has 250 single-family homes and townhouses, 36 condominiums and 170 rental units, with 1,000 residents arriving since the first home on this former slag heap was occupied in 2001.
“They are getting all the amenities of Squirrel Hill, without a drafty [older] house,” says Craig Dunham of Dunham reGroup LLC, project manager for Summerset Land Development Associates. Suburban-style amenities on-site, such as the community center and pool, make the development attractive to professionals from the Eds and Meds sector and from outside of the region.
“In 15 to 20 years, when all the trees have grown up and things start to wear a little, it'll look just like Point Breeze or Squirrel Hill,” he says. URA funding will help the development expand across Nine Mile Run under a master plan to be devised this spring. New construction should begin in 2015.
Downtown Pittsburgh offers a lot of “high-end, high-priced” opportunities for would-be residents, says John Ginocchi, director of development at Trek Development. He sees more affordable housing as a way to grow the downtown population.
He's confident that new residents will be attracted to housing with a lower price. “There's a big demand in the Lower Hill area. We get 300 applicants every time we open up a development there,” says Ginocchi.
Ralph A. Falbo, who heads his own development firm, revamped 151 First Side on First Avenue into 82 condominiums in 2007; all but four have been sold. He is currently trying to develop a downtown market off Market Square, which he describes as an “upscale grocery and wine bar.”
He believes it will be a good fit for the current urban housing market: busy professionals who have unusual hours and don't have time to cook, looking instead for a local restaurant district. When they do cook, they want to have the European experience of shopping daily for provisions in a local grocery. And they still want a convenient place to have their car, even if they've downsized to one vehicle and use public transportation.
Looking for 20,000
Ernie Hogan sees a new demographic headed for urban housing, and believes that it's the future of cities like Pittsburgh.
Hogan directs the nonprofit Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group, which advocates for Pittsburgh to adopt policies that facilitate healthier urban neighborhoods.
“We are growing younger as a city, and we need to,” says Hogan. He believes Pittsburgh will follow the national trend, attracting a more diverse demographic: people of different ethnicities, younger people and more single heads of households. New housing in his own neighborhood of Highland Park attracts a third of its residents from elsewhere in the neighborhood, a third from the region and the final third from outside Pittsburgh, including more singles and young couples than families, and more women than men.
“East Liberty's showing the same thing,” says Hogan of all the housing the neighborhood has added in the last decade. He also points out that Mt. Washington is starting to see a new surge of residents, along with the Brentwood/Whitehall/Baldwin area outside the city. Even the West End, despite the many foreclosures it has experienced, is starting to come back.
“We need to think beyond the city, to the [inner] ring suburbs,” he argues, which together with the city encompass about 680,000 people. Then, he says, “you start to get to an interesting urban center.” Forging better connections to those areas will actually be a good strategy for growing downtown.
But for that, “mass transportation is going to have to be at the forefront,” explains Hogan. Pittsburgh was an early adopter of one form of bus rapid transit (BRT) – the East Busway – but hasn't moved much beyond that. He believes the busway's ” next natural progression would be to extend to Monroeville,” and that other forms of BRT should be moving residents from downtown through Oakland to Squirrel Hill and Homestead, as well as through Polish Hill, and even out to Braddock.
“It's what we see as the way to continue to grow our city,” concludes Hogan.