Mixed-use projects bring city setting to suburbia

By Tory N. Parrish – Tribune-Review

Retirees Fred and Donna Albert were looking for a change of pace last year, but they didn’t want to slow down, they said.

With their five grown children out of their single-family home in McCandless, the Alberts decided they wanted to move to a place that offered them amenities — stores, restaurants, banks, a movie theater — within walking distance of home.

They found what they wanted in a townhouse in McCandless Crossing, a $100 million mixed-use development being built on 130 acres off McKnight Road.

“It’s like a city in a suburban setting,” said Fred Albert, who moved into the townhouse with his wife in May.

The Alberts are among the types of residents that mixed-use developments, those with a mix of housing, retail and/or office space,” are attracting: empty nesters and young professionals.

“I think the draw is convenience and the ability to live without using your car for every single thing,” said Joe Molinaro, managing director of community outreach in the Washington office of the National Association of Realtors, which is headquartered in Chicago.

A 2013 National Association of Realtors survey of 1,500 American adults found that 60 percent of respondents preferred neighborhoods with a mix of houses, stores and businesses that are easy to walk to, rather than neighborhoods that require more driving among their homes, workplaces and leisure activities.

Furthermore, 55 percent of respondents were willing to forgo homes with larger yards if they could live within walking distance of schools, stores and restaurants.

As examples of mixed-use success, local real estate experts cite The Waterfront, a 2.5 million-square-foot retail, dining, entertainment, residential and office development that was completed in 2002 and spreads out into Homestead, West Homestead and Munhall; and Market Square Place, the redevelopment of the former G.C. Murphy building, Downtown, into retail space, loft-style apartments and a YMCA.

Started in 2009, McCandless Crossing will eventually have 53 townhouses, called The Residences at McCandless, built by Ryan Homes. Seventeen are built and occupied, and 11 are under construction, said Robert McGurk, project manager at Selma, N.C.-based AdVenture Development LLC, which is developing McCandless Crossing.

The most successful mixed-use developments need a critical mass of activity, which starts with jobs, and often include public transportation, Molinaro said.

“They’re only in existence because they’re part of a city, part of a walking city. The walking part of a city needs to have jobs, restaurants, grocery stores, things that someone can (use to) make their life work without driving places,” he said.

That need for a critical mass of activity is spurring more mixed-use growth within urban areas, such as Pittsburgh, than in suburban areas, he said.

Downtown-based Oxford Development Co. is establishing Three Crossings, a $130 million redevelopment of a former truck yard that will include 300 upscale apartments, 300,000 square feet of office space and 20,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space in the Strip District. It will have a multimodal transportation center, which will include a parking garage, public transportation link and bike sharing and bike rental programs, said Shawn Fox, vice president of business development at Oxford.

“I would call it an urban development in the sense that the location in the Strip District is so unique and the proximity to Downtown, the proximity to nature in terms of the river,” he said.

Planned for the Strip District is the redevelopment of the historic Produce Terminal. The city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority is in talks with two developers, one of which wants to spend $46.4 million to create apartments, and retail and office space. The other wants to spend $19.4 million on space for closeout vendors, a public market, restaurants and a business incubator.

Housing in mixed-use developments Bakery Square and South Side Works are in high-demand by clients of Presenting Pittsburgh, a South Side-based relocation company, said Megan Misgalla, co-owner of the company.

If newcomers to the Pittsburgh area find that housing in the mixed-use communities is not available, the profiles of surrounding neighborhoods, such as East Liberty and Highland Park, can rise because they’ll settle for being close to hubs of activity, she said.

“As Pittsburgh continues to grow, I think having these kinds of high-quality mixed-use developments only makes our city more attractive to newcomers,” she said.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.