Sunday, February 21, 2010

Upswing In Downtown Pittsburgh

The story of downtown Rochester's revival goes through Nashville, San Antonio, and Pittsburgh:

Pittsburgh joins such cities as Nashville, Tenn., and San Antonio as examples of downtown revival. But in Pittsburgh, the work is ongoing and retail remains the city's Achilles' heel, [Mike Edwards (CEO of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership)] said.

"We don't have a defined retail district, which is one of our objectives this year. But, as most experts will tell you, retail follows rooftops."

And in that area, Pittsburgh lags other cities its size, with only 5,000 downtown residents. The strong market is office space, with 45 million square feet downtown, 92 percent of it occupied, and a work force of 140,000.

Once again, Pittsburgh is a model for urban redevelopment. I think it is a good one for Rochester to follow. That city also seems to be on the rise, in relatively good position as we make the turn upwards from the bottom of the Great Recession.


Stephen Gross said...

What would be a good target population in pgh downtown?

John Morris said...

20-30,000 should be the general goal for --the extended Downtown--which would include the bulk of the Strip, North Shore, Downtown and Lower Hill.

But, this quickly runs into the city's own policies which have been to remove people from these areas.

Pick a stadium--say Heinz Feild and blow it up!

This is a core problem in that a large chunk of the land near the downtown is controlled by players like the sports teams and Casino who need parking above all other things.

How about a free circulator buss service like Baltimore started?

Jim Russell said...

I don't know what would be a good target population. 10k would be a game-changer.

@John Morris: You suggest there is a residential supply problem. There is a residential demand problem. Downtown could pull a total Jane Jacobs and demand to live there wouldn't increase all that much.

John Morris said...

Is the South Siide having this problem? No! In fact, they are limited in building units near the South Side Works by a deal Murphy signed and current issues with parking.

With all do respect, Jim. You do not live in Pittsburgh and I think really lack an understanding of it's past and the potential market. I live here and talk to people all the time.

As you know, The Lower Hill, once had a population of over 8,000. The North Side in places like Manchester once had a much larger population also and a much larger housing stock.

The fundamental problem is that the city is very uncertain and uncommitted to anything clear. They want to be "impressive". They want big tim retail etc... and they want "the right kind of people" as in lots of wealthy residents.

At every turn they have tried to stop an organic development of the area.

By the way, people currently live illegally downtown and they were doing the same in a building that was torn down for the new Penguins arena.

There is no problem getting residents downtown. What one can't get is large numbers of wealthy people right away.

Jim Russell said...

Newsflash: Housing shortage in the City of Pittsburgh.

John Morris said...

Jim, you really don't know this place.

Yes, there is in fact a housing shortage in any area of the city remotely dense and urban. The problem with all the areas near the downtown is that all of them combined barely have enough population to support a supermarket. The North Side has one of pretty poor quality and now there is one in the Strip.

Most of the original housing stock (a lot of which was in poor condition)was torn down and I think a lot of the rest has been in limbo as private owners live in fear of the city's plans for them.

Now one has the problem of trying to not just attract residents, but residents that can pay for the costs of new construction and or expensive renovations--even in buildings that are pretty useful already.

Speaking as an artist and being most tied in to that crowd, I can say there is also a pretty drastic shortage of the kind of useful open studio space or better yet/ live work space in the city.

Most people make do with row houses and Victorians very ill suited to this use or use studios scattered around the city and region, which hurts any collaborative synergies. Some studios in Lawrenceville, a few storefronts in Garfield, a few studio buildings in Etna; an old school on a hill above Homestead; An old factory at the edge of Oakland; (now used for something else) The Brewhouse on the Southside if it ever meets city aproval again; a big building on Second Ave near the Mon River; A few buildings in Uptown like James Simon's studio.

In fact, one could see a trend towards artists moving in to use buildings near the downtown.

A lot of poor people and students live in very substandard housing, a lot of which is on steep hills that are hard to get to.

Jim Russell said...

Jim, you really don't know this place.

You are right. I don't. But people who do, some better than you, tell a different story.

Just because you live there doesn't mean your insights are correct.

John Morris said...

All of the artist's studio spaces I listed exist in the Pittsburgh area.

Anyway, there is no way to prove a negative in terms of what would have happened if policies had been tilted differently. Usually, when people break the law to live in or near an area, it indicates potential demand and this has happened in Pittsburgh.

The real rubber will, I hope soon meet the road. The city needs cash for it's 30% funded pension plans and will be forced kicking and screaming into selling or leasing it's parking garages and alowing market rates to establish themselves.

"In fact, given how big a supplier the PPA is in the Downtown parking market... it's not a question of whether the rates at PPA garages will go up to the current market price.. but how much farther they could inflate? The PPA rates are not only relatively low, but are likely keeping all the other rates Downtown lower than they would be otherwise. If left completely unregulated, which seems to be the recommendation of this panel, you really have to wonder how high rates could go beyond what the private lots currently charge."

Expect even more screams from surburban voters. The thing is the state and county no longer have the cash to get the city to doing self destructive stuff anymore.

Jim Russell said...

Usually, when people break the law to live in or near an area, it indicates potential demand and this has happened in Pittsburgh.

That's anecdotal and you are pulling your conclusions out of the air.

Squatting suggests the inability (or will) to regulate. Ad hoc (i.e. illegal) uses of space are quite common in depressed real estate markets. However, you might be right that there is some pent up demand. I doubt it, but it is possible.

John Morris said...

Early last year, when John Ross was booted from his fourth warehouse in the city, it seemed the Meter Room was destined to be a vagabond art scene, always sacrificed for the sake of development.
Last May, he found the right developer -- a landlord and benefactor who is helping establish him in a 15,000-square-foot warehouse on Chartiers Avenue.

As a result, an unlikely art scene has sprung up in Sheraden and earned Mr. Ross' Meter Room the Cool Space Locators' stamp of approval: Locators chose it as the site of this year's Cool Space Awards program on June 1.

"It is an excellent example of adaptive reuse," said Robyn Barber, director of outreach for Cool Space Locators, a nonprofit commercial real estate organization.

This is a good example of what I mean. The Post doesn't want to go into details about the last space John Ross was booted from which was where the new arena is. Previous to this he was in the building on Second Ave--Downtown.

Now he's trying to pull some things together on some weird place called Sheriden which is across bridges and tunnels from the city.

Notice from the article that some kids from Point Park University students. Point Park is located--Downtown.

BTW--Point Park is by far the best college in town in terms of the way it treats the city and builds synergies here. Point Park is Awesome!!!

John Morris said...

"Until two years ago, Ross had two galleries -- a smaller one on Second Avenue, Downtown, and one in Brooklyn, N.Y. After losing the Brooklyn space when developers turned over the neighborhood to build condos, Ross figured he would open a larger gallery in Pittsburgh's Uptown neighborhood.

If the SEA buys the building, Ross likely would receive some compensation to relocate. But he would lose his sweat equity -- and at least some of his investment.

"We took this old toy store nobody wanted to rent and made it very, very beautiful," Ross said. "Now everything's getting pulled out from underneath us."

Her's a further article that describes what happened to the building The Meter room was in. I had about 6-8 floors of artists spaces and was home to a fashion designer--Sus Pisano.

This is the thing. These people just don't make the cut as being "the right people", just like the jazz musicians and clubs didn't earlier.

When the city say's it can't get people to live downtown, it means a particular breed of middle-upper middle class person.