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Progress Update: Converting Office Buildings into Housing to Build a Downtown for All

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Breathing new life into Hullett Development’s Triangle Building and Beacon Communities’ First and Market Project applies pilot funding for Pittsburgh Downtown Conversion Programs.


new residential units created

$54 million

total development costs for Pittsburgh Downtown Conversion Program

In business districts across the United States, a familiar post-pandemic refrain is repeating: Remote and hybrid work schedules are leaving “good-enough” office buildings vacant as tenants abandon leases in search of class-A facilities with amenities attractive enough to pull workers back in.

Downtown Pittsburgh echoes this national trend, however, our city has already sprung into action to pivot toward the emerging conversion opportunities transforming office space into living space. Investments in two Pittsburgh Downtown Conversion Projects (PDCP) intended to stimulate the central business district’s economic recovery have utilized the available funding for the pilot program, demonstrating progress. Those two projects, Triangle Building and First and Market, are already underway with financing receiving the necessary approvals, says Susheela Nemani-Stanger, executive director of the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh (URA).

“In order to reposition downtown, we have the right group of stakeholders very interested in helping and providing the resources at a state level,” Nemani-Stanger says.

Triangle Building at Liberty Avenue and Smithfield Street began leasing its family-sized units in May. While construction began on this historic landmark in August 2022, the financing that came in from tax credits and grants enabled the developer, Hullett Properties, to offer affordable units recently. The existing space on the first floor of the Triangle Building will continue its retail use, Nemani-Stanger said.

For older adults, Beacon Communities’ First and Market Building at 100 First Avenue will offer 93 new one-bedroom affordable units, all supported by Section 8 Project-Based Vouchers. Construction in the 11-story building is slated to begin in October, with completion expected in April 2025.

“Housing demand is here to stay in our region; there are waitlists for vouchers,”Nemani-Stanger says. “Unlocking the potential for conversion, particularly in buildings like these for residents that we don’t typically assist downtown allows us to serve the full cross-section of Pittsburgh residents.”

While certainly not alone among urban areas with a glut of office vacancies, Pittsburgh’s need to right-size the existing commercial space is increasingly dire: While only the 28th largest metropolitan area in the United States, Pittsburgh hosts the fifth-highest concentration of office space relative to other uses.

The URA, City of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County and Allegheny Conference on Community Development are evaluating funding options for recapitalization and scaling of the program from local, state, federal, and other available opportunities.

Even prior to current financing tools and the hybrid-inspired flight to quality from Class C to Class A buildings, Pittsburgh leaders have worked to bring more housing options into downtown.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to deliver on that interest that we’ve had for two and a half decades,” Nemani-Stanger says, citing the Alcoa Building as a prime example of a successful commercial-to-residential conversion. “There have been multiple campaigns to extract housing downtown, and this flight to quality is unlocking those opportunities.”

The key difference now, Nemani-Stanger says, is that stakeholders are focusing more on affordability and quality housing. Beyond the economic advantages that the developments promise, the buildings themselves are architecturally significant.

“The historical nature of the buildings and the developers’ willingness to retain the interesting character of these properties make it very appealing for housing,” Nemani-Stanger says.

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