When it was time for Innovation Works (IW) to find new office space, they looked at many different neighborhoods and office configurations. But the surprising thing they found in Nova Place—formerly Allegheny Center—was a partnership with the developer, Faros Properties.
The two companies, the New York-based Faros, and IW, share a common vision about the importance of tech companies and the entrepreneurial community to Pittsburgh’s continued growth, says Terri Glueck, director of community development & communications for Innovation Works. What impressed them was Faros’ “commitment to provide affordable and flexible space for startups to work productively when they’re new and when they grow.”
IW is an example of that commitment. The single largest investor in seed-stage companies in this region, the group could not have moved into a space so ideal for their team—9,000 square feet—without the help of Faros and the buildout they provided, says Glueck.
And now Glueck says the relationship with Faros “is an important part of our own development as an organization.”
Creating a community
Scaffolding and plastic inside its main hub, The Concourse, disguise the progress of aggressive reconstruction as Nova Place undergoes transformation.
Crews will soon be wrapping up construction at Union Fitness, a 10,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art fitness center that will be open to the public. A pedestrian plaza outside is still being renovated. And Nova’s rooftop sign is now up, replacing one from its past life as Allegheny Center.
A planned new entrance will make the rebranding distinctive, says Jeremy Leventhal, managing partner of Faros Properties in New York.
“(The sign) gives us huge visibility from the city and the stadiums,” Leventhal says. “We’ve got exciting restaurant concepts that we hope to announce soon, and we’re hosting events such as Thrival Innovation and the Children’s Museum’s Maker Faire. We expect all of the renovations to be done in three or four months, so there are some really great changes people are going to see this fall.”
Faros is investing more than $200 million to transform a one-time mall, two office towers, an underground garage and four apartment buildings on 30 acres in the heart of the North Side. Nova’s premier tenant is Alloy 26, the region’s largest co-working space, which houses a number of tech companies and startups. Other tenants include long-time tenant PNC, as well as Bank of America, Innovation Works, Allegheny Health Network and Expedient.
Built between 1964 and the early 1970s, the property has been undergoing a massive rebuild to customize offices and gathering spaces. Nova touts a state-of-the-art data center for tenants, and green space for breaks in the outdoor commons area.
The apartments, modernized and enhanced by decks, lounges and fire pits, are fully leased with a waiting list, Leventhal says.
He won’t yet divulge the identity of the coming restaurant, except to say it will be open for lunch and dinner: “We think it’s going to be not only a draw to the community but also a destination for people visiting the North Shore.”
Faros had no ties to Pittsburgh before buying the real estate and announcing its ambitious project last year. The partners, Boston natives who include Alexander Leventhal and Elliot Gould, saw potential in Pittsburgh as “a great city with strong intellectual capital and market fundamentals,” says Jeremy Leventhal.
“The ability to breathe new life into a portion of the city that’s been largely forgotten about, and to create activity and vibrancy and a sense of place—that’s really exciting for us,” he says. “When you think about what you’re creating, you’re place-making. You’re talking about creating a neighborhood. We’ve done a lot of critical thinking about how we’re developing that, building it out, and what’s going to attract people, benefit people.”
Much of that revolves around technology, innovation and a spirit of entrepreneurship found in Alloy 26. The open floor plan with its colorful and modern design offers dedicated desks, privates offices, access to conference rooms and more, says Mike Woycheck, Faros’ operations director at the site.
“We have over 50 companies in the space and those run the gamut from larger companies of 7-10 people, working every day, to individuals working here a few times a month,” Woycheck says. “We’ve got tech startups, freelancers and nonprofits. We’re hoping to open another phase with more offices and open space.”
Alloy 26 occupies old Woolworth space, empty since 1997. Its ultimate layout could change, Woycheck says. The space can accommodate 170 people now; with additions, that could grow to 200. Next door, with a window inside the lobby of Alpha, is an offshoot of the Strip District’s La Prima Espresso Co., a big plus to tenants throughout the building.
Woycheck, who moved from Erie to the North Hills in 2001, worked for Alpha Lab and then Google Pittsburgh before joining Faros. “When I saw the scale, and what they were aggressively trying to accomplish, it was an exciting opportunity,” he says, “something cool, a resource for Pittsburgh, and something new out of the old.”
When the work started, Woycheck felt like he was stepping into a time capsule. Now, Concourse escalators are gone, even though some people complained that stairs and elevators will replace them.
“We see it as progress,” Woycheck says. “Change is sometimes difficult. It’s going to look very, very different—a lot more inviting, a lot more usable, hospitable.”
Leventhal likes that Radiant Hall, an artists’ incubator on the North Side, complements the tech companies drawn to Nova Place. Faros aimed to attract a blend of startups and established companies, of millennials and empty nesters. Its executives keep in touch with neighborhood advocacy groups.
“Fusion of art and technology and culture is really important to us—to create that environment that we think is really appealing to people,” Leventhal says. “We think that what makes a great community is an eclectic community. We don’t think that people just want to be around people like themselves. The way that people learn and grow is by being around new experiences.”
For Terri Gleuck and the folks at Innovation Works, the location on the North Side is where they can be part of a network of resources for entrepreneurs that is different than what Oakland, East Liberty or other neighborhoods offer.
“It reinforces the notion that entrepreneurship thrives all throughout Pittsburgh,” she says.