Oxford Development's confidence in Pittsburgh builds with new project

Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014, 11:51 p.m.

Oxford Development is wagering nearly $400 million on growing demand for high-end office and living spaces, the latest bet a $130 million deal on the Allegheny River in the Strip District that will include storage for bikes and kayaks.

Oxford broke ground Tuesday on its biggest project in the past two years: a development known as Three Crossings that will transform a former Strip District truck yard into a riverfront jewel with 300 luxury apartments, up to four low-rise office towers and retail space in an area that’s evolving rapidly.

“We were part of Pittsburgh’s history in terms of the Renaissances, so it was very important to our owners to be invested in what’s going on here at this moment in time,” said Shawn Fox, vice president of business development at Oxford.

By that, Fox means explosive development. That wasn’t occurring when Oxford completed the 45-story One Oxford Centre in the heart of Downtown in 1983, when the region’s economy bottomed out as the steel industry collapsed.

It was the first Downtown project for Oxford, then a 20-year-old firm that had developed South Hills Village and Monroeville Mall after being formed by Eugene Lebowitz; his son, Edward Lewis; son-in-law, Mark Mason; and Harry Soffer and his son, Don Soffer, and was formerly known as Don-Mark Realty.

Today, Oxford is Pennsylvania’s largest privately owned real estate services firm and has provided management services on projects totaling more than $9 billion, including construction of Consol Energy Center, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and the August Wilson Center for African American Culture.

But it’s hardly the only player in a town where construction is accelerating. Other major developments in the pipeline include Almono LP’s proposed $1 billion redevelopment of the former LTV Steel Co. site in Hazelwood, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ $440 million redevelopment of the former Civic Arena site and PNC Financial Services Group’s $400 million skyscraper-building project in Downtown. Oxford also plans a $200 million, 20-story tower called 350 Fifth in Downtown, with construction scheduled to start in 2016.

“This project is a continuation of what’s happening across this region. Demand for housing and office space is continuing unabated,” Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald said he doesn’t see an end to that, pointing to a recent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report showing Allegheny County regained 191 percent of the jobs it lost during the Great Recession, tops in the nation.

Mayor Bill Peduto has said the city’s research shows demand for at least 5,000 more upscale, amenity-laden apartments like the ones Oxford is building in the area of 27th and Railroad streets in the Strip.

“Our desire is to parlay the authenticity and energy that already exists in the Strip into a revitalized waterfront neighborhood,” said Oxford CEO Steve Guy.

The project also will kickstart plans to develop the riverfront between 11th and 31st streets, officials said.

“The Allegheny riverfront is poised for a new era of greatness. I can’t wait to see what happens here,” Riverlife Pittsburgh CEO Elisabeth Shroeder said.

“This is the first groundbreaking I’ve been to where they have kayak parking,” Fitzgerald said, referring to the development’s planned kayak storage space. “I think it’s emblematic of our attempts to attract more young people.”

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