Plans to turn Eighth Street back into a bustling urban pedestrian way are getting a big boost from two community-minded developers. Q Development and Trek Development are joining forces to rehabilitate two historic buildings and construct two new ones, to be called “Eighth and Penn,” in the Cultural District.

The development plans call for the four buildings to range from six to eleven stories and operate as one 190,000-square-foot building on the interior containing 135 residential units. A continuous storefront along Penn Avenue and wrapping around to Eighth Street will be used for retail and restaurants.

From the outside, the four buildings will be viewed as an “ensemble,” says architect Kevin Wagstaff of PWWG, in that they will appear as four distinct facades yet have design elements that link them together.

penn eighth facades

The proposed facades for the development will operate as an “ensemble.”

“The new addition has modern details; on Penn they take their cues from the historic facades,” says Wagstaff. “As new construction turns the corner and extends, it becomes less deferential and more assertively modern, looking forward to the future and the new buildings that will be built in the Eighth Street block.”

The buildings are located at 711 and 713 Penn Avenue between Eighth Street and Maddox Place. Eighth Street has been a bit of a “dead zone” of surface parking lots in the Cultural District, though in recent years it has been invigorated by Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership’s night markets and the Cultural Trust’s glowing water cube.

The developers are planning to add to the glow on Eighth Street. They have hired artist Erwin Redl of New York City to design an LED light installation that will enhance a diagonal passageway that transects the development and terminates at Katz Plaza. Redl was recently hired by the city of Spartanburg, South Carolina to create 10 temporary art installations in public spaces to promote crime prevention.

By all accounts, Downtown real estate remains strong and the demand for residential apartments in the area is high. But projects can still present challenges for developers. A previous development plan at the same site, the RiverParc project, did got go through because of the 2008 economic downturn and site acquisition for this current project has taken time.

“It’s very clear the obvious way to develop the buildings is to put them together. But they had been under separate ownership for the last century,” says Rick Belloli of Q Development.

penn eighth historic

The historic buildings are tall and skinny, and would be difficult to rehab on their own.

Q and Trek Development have been collaborating on the North Side Garden Theater development and decided to extend their successful partnership to this project and “embrace these buildings,” says Belloli.

The Eighth and Penn development is still in the planning stages: city approvals are being sought and financing is being finalized. If financing and the approval process are successful, the developers plan to break ground in the first quarter of 2017 with an anticipated two-year construction timeline.