More Downtown housing is under way
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
By Mark Belko, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
David W. Bishoff is so pleased with condominium sales at the Carlyle, the soon-to-be-converted Union National Bank building at Fourth Avenue and Wood Street, Downtown, that he's ready to try it again -- right next door.
Even as the ribbon was being cut yesterday to celebrate the start of construction at the Carlyle, Mr. Bishoff said he had a "second phase" of housing planned at its 20-story sister, the Commonwealth Building, next door on Fourth.
Mr. Bishoff, president of E.V. Bishoff Co. of Columbus, Ohio, said that conversion project moved from thought into planning because of the early success of the 21-story Carlyle, where 20 of 60 luxury units ranging in price from $190,000 to $1.2 million have been sold.
"Any time you can sell a third of the units before you come out of the ground or start demolition, that, to me, is an indication on the part of the community as a whole that you are developing something that they place value on," he said.
The Bishoff Co. owns the Union National Bank and Commonwealth buildings, both of which were built in 1906.
Mr. Bishoff said there could be 50 to 60 units in the Commonwealth Building, although he is unsure whether they would be condos or apartments. Prices would range from $235,000 to $450,000. He said the firm planned to start the second conversion once 75 percent of the units in the Carlyle had been sold.
The company eventually may develop housing on a parking lot it owns on Fourth as well, he said.
The Commonwealth Building conversion would add to the burgeoning residential market Downtown.
In addition to the 60 units at the Carlyle, another 65 condos are planned at Piatt Place, the former Lazarus-Macy's building at Fifth Avenue and Wood, and 42 apartments are in the works at the old G.C. Murphy store on Fifth.
Another 28 luxury condos are part of the 23-story Three PNC Plaza skyscraper being built on Fifth across from Murphy's. Millcraft Industries, the developer converting the former Lazarus and Murphy's stores, also has plans for as many as 250 condos and apartments in a new 18-story high-rise on Forbes Avenue.
On First Avenue, 151 First Side, an 80-unit condominium high-rise, is being readied for its first move-ins this summer. More than half of those units have been sold.
Add to all those some 700 housing units planned over the next decade between Seventh and Ninth streets, adjacent to the Cultural District, and some smaller projects completed or under development Downtown.
While it might seem like too much to some, Mr. Bishoff has no doubt the market can support it. He said Columbus, a city smaller than Pittsburgh, has sold a couple thousand downtown housing units in recent years with the help of a 10-year tax abatement program.
"The question isn't whether this city can absorb 200 or 400 or 600 or even a thousand. This Downtown should easily absorb and keep filled several thousand units," he said.
Like the other developers doing housing Downtown, Mr. Bishoff is gambling that a lot of people will trade in suburban homes, yard work and frustrating commutes for Downtown living and a walk to work.
He said Pittsburgh has many of the amenities in place -- jogging and biking trails, parks and green space, boating, and sporting and cultural venues -- to support a robust residential market.
"If you think about it, there is no great city in the world that is without a downtown residential component. When you think about the number of people and the amount of business that's done in Pittsburgh, I can't think of any compelling reason why the people of Pittsburgh will do anything but embrace Downtown housing," he said.
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said the Carlyle is part of the "continued transformation of the Downtown corridor."
He used the ribbon cutting to pitch his proposed tax abatement program for residential housing that is now before City Council. It would waive, for 10 years, the first $2,700 in city property taxes on new housing units built Downtown and in 21 other neighborhoods.
"It will help expedite people moving Downtown. It will stir interest and allow people to move Downtown, walk to work, and be more efficient," he said.
One Carlyle buyer, Brian Ritz, is trading in his Friendship home for a two-bedroom, two-bath unit on the 15th floor. He likened his investment to "owning a piece of the Golden Triangle."
He also was attracted by the emerging Downtown residential market.
"I like the energy and the potential. The idea of having a neighborhood Downtown that I'm going to be part of is very exciting," he said.