By Mark Belko / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
In the early 1980s, Oxford Development Co. was a key contributor to the city’s second renaissance with construction of 45-story One Oxford Centre on Grant Street.
Nearly 35 years later, the developer once again is looking to leave its mark on the Downtown skyline — this time with a 20-story office tower it is billing as the most efficient in the city.
In an interview Thursday, Steven Guy, Oxford’s CEO, said it was “absolutely important” for the company and its ownership “to do another great legacy project for the community.”
“There are few times in a city’s history that a city is ready and capable of accepting a new product — something world class, something that makes a difference — and this is one of those times,” he said from his office on the top floor of One Oxford Centre.
Oxford hopes to start construction of the $192 million glass and aluminum tower in the second quarter of 2015 with completion expected in 2018. It would be built on Oxford-owned property on Smithfield Street between Fifth and Forbes avenues, with an existing building there to be demolished.
The company settled on a 20-story tower after considering two other options for the site for the last two years. One was a new $238 million, 33-story skyscraper for which Oxford was unable to secure an anchor tenant.
The other was a proposed $40 million renovation of the existing building, but that received “no market support,” Mr. Guy said.
Sent back to the drawing board, Oxford came up with its newest plan — the 20-story high-rise designed very deliberately to maximize the use of every inch of space, thus saving tenants money.
In the month or so that Oxford has been marketing the project, it has been well received, with interest from both national and local companies, Mr. Guy said.
Mr. Guy believes the new building will be the most efficient in the city and one of the most efficient in the country, at least in terms of utilizing space. The goal, he said, is “extreme efficiency.”
The key to achieving that is a raised floor system under which there will be room to run data and telecommunications cables as well as air conditioning and heating ducts.
That will allow for column-free floors, enabling tenants to more effectively arrange the space. All heating and cooling will come from the floor. Vents can be placed anywhere and can be targeted to maximize heating and air conditioning for individual employees.
Given such innovations, tenants will be able to use 92 to 93 percent of the space they are renting, Mr. Guy said, compared to an average of 76 to 80 percent in other Class A office buildings in the Pittsburgh market.
One real estate expert has estimated that Oxford would have to charge tenants in the mid-$30 range to rent space in the new high-rise when the average for existing Class A space Downtown is $28.16.
But Mr. Guy said that the building’s efficiencies will more than make up for that. He added that with allowances provided by landlords, the rental rates for Class A space actually averages $30 to $32 a square foot.
He predicted that by the time the Oxford tower, dubbed 350 Fifth, is finished in 2018, the effective rental rate for the building will be at or below projected rental rates for existing Class A space Downtown.
Gensler, the same company that designed PNC’s new 33-story headquarters being built on Wood Street and its Three PNC Plaza office, residential and hotel tower on Fifth, is the architect for the Oxford project.
The building will feature about 13,200 square feet of retail space at street level. In addition to the natural light provided by the glass facade, there will be LED lighting inside, waste recycling, eco-friendly cleaning techniques and lighting controls. There also will be an outdoor area on the ninth floor and a sky deck on the roof.
Mr. Guy said Oxford is looking at possible state and local help in building the office tower but did not provide specific amounts. One of the options, he said, is tax increment financing.
Mayor Bill Peduto has said in the past he is open to the idea of a TIF for the development “as long as it goes beyond the building itself” and would help in upgrading Smithfield Street, which he wants to turn into a “grand boulevard.” Mr. Guy and Shawn Fox, Oxford’s director of business development, said they are willing to consider that.
“Anything we can do to help Smithfield Street helps our project,” Mr. Fox said.
The proposed retail, Mr. Guy said, would be “additive” to Downtown, geared as much toward the burgeoning residential population as workers and tourists.
He ultimately sees the new tower serving as a bridge connecting Grant Street, the longtime hub of government and business, with Market Square and its vibrant restaurant scene.
“Smithfield is the next great frontier, and we wanted to be a leader in that in connecting those two,” he said.
Mark Belko: email@example.com or 412-263-1262