The terminology “adaptive reuse,” set the stage for the next phase of the Inter-Regional Visit tour which picked up in the Strip District. The best way to experience this district in flux is by foot. The group set out on the streets led by Paul Umbach, Founder and Senior Principle, and his team from Tripp Umbach. Umbach had provided the group with a visual history of the evolution of the Strip District. Once teeming with trucking and steel mills, a hub for wholesale produce and access to factories, the district fell to near ruin with the steel bust. At one time there were only 72 residents left in this district.
“When the younger population left the city, it became imperative to create a new vibrancy. It started with this dilapidated, bedraggled district. We thought it could work because it is so close to the city and we could imagine the possibilities,” Umbach said. The Cork Factory, a warehouse constructed in 1901, is the starting point of the district. It once employed close to 1,300 people, but had only 300 remaining when it closed in 1974. As Umbach explained, “A breakthrough came in 2005 when a development team bought the complex and converted the landmark into 297 loft apartments.” Umbach was one of the first to take up residence there. “This started it all, and became the impetus for all of the development.” The lot across the street from the thriving Cork Factory apartments includes a parking garage and over 45,000 square feet of retail shops.
The District is in progress, with construction, road closures, the sounds of cement mixers, but beyond the hard hats, there are luxury condos, mixed-use retail space. “The biggest change has been people living in the strip,” Umbach said. Similar to the Cork Factory, The Yards is a 300 unit apartment complex that merges the future with the industrial past at the former site of a Pitt Ohio Express truck yard, exemplifying adaptive reuse. Even with the new and even luxury housing, there remains a 20% affordable housing requirement. The Strip District took on three zoning initiatives, mixed-use, creating opportunities for developers, and stringent requirements for historic buildings.
Dotted along the district are diners, delis, donuts and many unique boutique shops and artisan studios. The main artery, Penn Ave. reflects the convergence of industry. That corridor has survived despite the hardships over the past decades and it is like stepping back in time. European style cafes, street grocers, fruit vendors and no fewer than eight local coffee roasters that have put any Starbucks that has ventured into the Strip District out of business. Only one national chain has survived in the Strip District, a McDonald’s which has been there since the 1970’s. “Pittsburgh citizens are fiercely loyal to their local businesses,” Umbach said and it shows in Penn Ave. where historic character meets the new “Silicon Strip” and adapts to tech, robotics, and green technologies.
There are extensive and well-developed bike trails that connect with the city’s well-established system of bike lanes. The city has worked to alleviate traffic by building other ways to get around. The Strip District is becoming more walkable as well.
The hope is for the leaders of Hampton Roads to take these ideas and help put them into action. “Ideas into Action” is the tagline for Tripp Umbach, but could very well be representative of the whole of Pittsburgh’s success.
Tripp Umbach has provided a link to their powerpoint presentation here.