Despite being sandwiched between Downtown and Oakland, Uptown is still a bit of a mystery to many Pittsburghers.

It’s dominated by large institutions like Mercy Hospital, Duquesne University and PPG Paints Arena, yet also pockmarked by abandoned houses and empty lots.

But Michael McAllister, of developer McAllister Equities and a five-year Uptown resident, sees a vibrant neighborhood in the making.

That’s why he’s building two eight-unit apartment buildings on empty lots on Locust and Miltenberger streets.

“Everyone always asks what Uptown is, and where is it?” says McAllister. “It’s a nebulous thing, a collection of neighborhoods, that always had its roots in being part of the Hill District. Just looking at the footprint of Uptown, it’s not that big an area. There’s a real opportunity to move the needle here on a block-by-block basis, which is what these two projects are doing.”

With people, other neighborhood amenities should follow, he says.

“Once you’ve got those numbers, things come along with it,” says McAllister. “A coffee shop would be wonderful; a corner cafe would be great. Those things will certainly, absolutely come as you add more people to the mix.”

The company just broke ground on the two buildings, which will feature keyless entry, secure parcel and bike storage, kitchens with stainless steel appliances and quartz countertops, in-unit laundry, soaking tubs and handcrafted built-in shelving. They’re designed by Indovina Associates Architects.

“We want them to look in 20 years as good as they look today,” says McAllister.

“Similarly, we wanted to have brick facades, and things that make these buildings feel substantial, and like something that will be around a long time.”

Rents have yet to be determined, but will be market-rate, notes McAllister.

The apartments will be just blocks away from where Duquesne University is building a medical school, and where UPMC Mercy is building a state-of-the-art eye care hospital.

“I just liked that Uptown had such proximity to so many different neighborhoods — you can walk to South Side, Oakland, Downtown,” says McAllister. “Bus service is great. It’s central, and it didn’t fall into a specific look. You can embrace the historic side, you can do something far more modern. That flexibility has us most interested in what it could be.”

Welcome to Uptown sign by James Simon. Photo by Heather Mull.

Uptown growth

There’s suddenly a lot of interest in Uptown, among both developers and individual homeowners, says Uptown Partners of Pittsburgh Executive Director Jeanne McNutt.

“Big and small,” says McNutt. “We’re seeing a lot of small restoration projects. We still have enough vacancy that is owned by speculators, that gives the impression that things maybe aren’t popping. But they are.”

Bigger projects should start to become visible soon, she says.

“I think there’s some 15 projects in the pipeline,” says McNutt.

Among them is the City’s Edge, a proposed 110-unit apartment building, which is expected to have a parking garage and retail space.

City’s Edge in Uptown. Rendering courtesy of Strada, LLC.

Keeping affordable housing options in the neighborhood is a priority for Uptown Partners.

“Our goal as an EcoInnovation District is that people of all incomes can live here,” says McNutt. “We’re not a Lawrenceville. We aspire to get it right, and have quality housing for low-income folks.”