Pittsburghers telling the stories of Pittsburgh.
Minutes before voting in favor of the final plans for the Meridian, the planned mixed-use development in Shadyside, Pittsburgh Planning Commissioner Becky Mingo told the architects what she really thought.
“It looks like highway motel architecture,” Mingo said during the meeting in November meeting, describing the window details and flat walls that are broken only by colors and materials.
“It seems to me like it is a building that could be on a highway in Denver, a motel in Arkansas: It’s not specifically designed for our place, or our city, and does not address the buildings across the street in any particular way,” she said.
Then, noting that she knew that her remarks would not change the design in any way, she added, “I am disappointed that the building is going to look like it does.”
The Meridian is just one of the major real estate development projects in the works in and around Pittsburgh in 2023 that range from so-called hotel architecture — much of it the nationally ubiquitous five stories of apartments over ground floor retail — to a new airport project to big glass towers.
Even before receiving the city’s approval for the new plans, ECHO Realty, the real estate arm of Giant Eagle, demolished the strip mall it called Shady Hill Plaza, but everyone else called the Shakespeare Street Giant Eagle.
In Shadyside, the Giant Eagle project calls for building a new 36,000-square-foot supermarket along Penn Avenue with 231 apartments and 10 smaller shops curving around the corner and going up Shady Avenue. A three-story parking garage to be shared by the grocery store and the other tenants will be built behind the new buildings.
ECHO agreed to dedicate 15% of the units to affordable housing, with 10% affordable for people who earn half of the area median income and the other 5% for people who earn 80% of the local median income. Commissioner Sabina Deitrick said she was disappointed by the 80% figure and would have wanted more units available to people earning lower wages.
In other development, the foundation is being laid in Oakland for UPMC’s new 17-story, 900,000-square-foot glass tower that will house 636 private patient rooms and serve as the center for the hospital’s departments for transplant, heart and vascular and neurological care.
Plans for the new UPMC Presbyterian Hospital include dedicating one-quarter of the patient care rooms to intensive care.
The 17-story glass tower isn’t the only big block of glass planned for Oakland. The University of Pittsburgh is planning a much smaller project — a three-story glass box around the entrance to Hillman Library, in which each story will be off-kilter from the others, sort of like a stack of books that aren’t quite lined up.
The project has gone before the City Planning Commission for a preliminary briefing, but has not been the subject of a public hearing nor is it currently on the commission’s schedule for final action.
Another big project that is still in the planning stages in Oakland is Walnut Capital’s Oakland Crossings, a development of 13.25 acres along Halket Street and the Boulevard of the Allies.
The company’s agreement with the city, which passed special zoning for the project, will allow buildings that are up to 195 feet tall along Halket Street across from Magee-Womens Hospital.
A map of the plan that was presented to the city by Walnut Capital shows a 120-foot-tall building on Halket closest to Forbes Avenue, a 185-foot-high building that would have a grocery store at the corner of Halket and Zulema streets, where Panera Bread is now, another 185-foot building on the former Isaly’s property, and an 85-foot building also on that property, but closer to the row of homes on Niagara Street.
While UPMC is currently preparing the foundation for the tower in Oakland, it is much farther along on the UMPC Mercy Pavilion, a 410,000-square-foot, 10-story building in Uptown along the Boulevard of the Allies.
That building is slated to house outpatient eye care, rehabilitation and physical therapy. For patients experiencing blindness and low vision, the hospital will include a gym, a fully functional apartment for learning life skills and a rooftop garden that includes ramps and stairs to teach patients to navigate various kinds of obstacles.
Also in Uptown, Duquesne University will be constructing a 12-story building with 229 units of housing for 556 students. The building is planned for Forbes Avenue between Duquesne University’s Power Center and Magee Street on a parcel that is currently a surface parking lot.
Up the hill, the long-awaited development of the Lower Hill District has started with the construction of the 24-story glass First National Bank headquarters that will include a bank branch, parking and shops.
So far the superstructure of the building is less than 50% completed. When finished, the FNB Financial Center will have 547,888 square feet of space.
The construction project also has a dedicated webcam for the public to watch.
One of the region’s most ambitious projects is the Terminal Modernization Program at Pittsburgh International Airport.
The new terminal project will correct some of the errors of the 1992 terminal by replacing what is now the landside terminal with a new building located between concourses C and D.
The new 700,000-square-foot building will house airport and airline operations, ticketing, baggage claim, a passenger meeting area, the security checkpoint, retail and concessions.
Relocating the landside terminal will necessitate building new roads to the terminal and a new parking garage.
Information released by the Allegheny County Airport Authority stated that once complete, it will take passengers half the time it currently takes to get from the curb to the airside terminal. The project is projected to cost $1.6 billion and is projected to open in early 2025.
Ann Belser is the owner of Print, a newspaper covering Pittsburgh’s East End communities. After receiving a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, she moved to Squirrel… More by Ann Belser