Huntington Bank’s recent $70 million loan commitment to EastSide III is the latest in a string of private investments that Mosites’ Director of Real Estate Mark Minnerly says underscores the project’s potential. EastSide III is the culmination of a decade-long collaboration to revitalize East Liberty.
“In an area where it was hard to leverage bank financing 10 or 15 years ago, through this crazy collaboration we’ve created a world that has enough value that you can bring [substantial] private money to the table.”
Looking at the rebar and concrete skeleton of EastSide III’s construction, there is no way to visually separate private money from public; city, county, and state funding from federal. According to Minnerly, that’s the point. By creating an inclusive public-private partnership, Eastside III won’t be an isolated development, but a “continuous piece of the East Liberty business district.”
Stretching across six acres from Highland and Penn Avenues, EastSide III seeks to reconnect East Liberty with surrounding neighborhoods. The project consists of three separately-owned and -financed pieces: mixed-use retail and residential construction; creation of shared infrastructure, such as public plazas that access the transit station; and a revamped East Liberty busway station.
In addition to state and federal funding, monies obtained through Pennsylvania’s Transit Revitalization Investment District program (TRID) made it possible to rework the stop into a multi-modal transit hub.
“We could have left the station the way it was,” Minnerly says, “but it would have connected to the neighborhood illogically and felt isolated.”
That would have violated the project’s driving concept. The Eastside III project is meant to enable neighborhood longevity by taking parcels of land that had no significant independent utility and reassembling them into viable urban fabric, says Minnerly.
The development hinges on collaboration. Along with the Urban Redevelopment Authority and the Port Authority of Allegheny County, Mosites has worked with city, county, state, and federal entities within the framework of the East Liberty Community Plans: vision documents that were created through stakeholder meetings and spearheaded by nonprofit community development corporation. East Liberty Development, Inc. 1999’s “A Vision for East Liberty” was followed by 2010’s “Many Voices Driving Neighborhood Change.”
“The community plan has been a really important reference point [to ensure] that what we’re doing is contributing to a larger story,” says Minnerly.
East Liberty’s story is predominately one of growth and prosperity. Settled in the 1800s by a small group of Europeans, the fledgling neighborhood grew into an industrial hotbed. Many of Pittsburgh’s famous businessmen—Westinghouse, Carnegie, Heinz—lived or worked in the area. In 1906, 2,000 of the 3,000 automobiles in Pittsburgh belonged to East Liberty residents, necessitating installation of the city’s first stoplight at the intersection of Highland and Penn.
But by the 1950s—when there was still a hat-fitting area for ladies at a local department store—East Liberty began to decline. In an attempt to address commercial vacancy and traffic congestion, business leaders embarked on an urban renewal plan that choked traditional arteries of commerce and residency.
Minnerly says the EastSide III project can help East Liberty regain its place as a vital artery in the body of the city. “This is a chance to create 80 years of functional life.”
When asked about the health of the neighborhood and how this development will affect long-term residents, Minnerly says that Mosites is one piece of a larger effort.
“We think we’re doing development that will benefit everybody, but the devil’s in the details,” says Minnerly. “So we’re trying to make sure we’re part of a balanced strategy, that we’re doing pieces of what is a larger community plan.” He adds that nonprofit and for-profit partners like ELDI, East End Cooperative Ministries, and McCormack Baron Salazar have led the charge to create affordable and transitional housing.
President of The Mosites Company, Steven Mosites, Jr. adds that Target proves the viability of goods-and-services businesses like those intended for EastSide III.
“Our Target store is the top-performing store in the region and the reason is everybody is using it,” he says. “It’s a strong statement of location, of the value of transit improvement, and also that it’s serving a complete demographic of our neighborhoods.”
Construction on the first building in the mixed-use project will begin this month. PJ Dick Inc. is the general contractor for the site project, following plans drawn by Baltimore-based The Design Collective. Gulisek Construction Company will build the East Liberty station, which was designed by Jonathan Kline and the Studio for Spatial Practice. CDM Smith acted as the station’s project architect. The Huntington Bank loans were made jointly to The Mosites Company and Morgan Management, who is a Joint Venture partner. The Mosites Company is pursuing LEED certification for the project, as well as LEED for Neighborhood Development. If awarded, it would be the first LEED ND certification in Pittsburgh. Though a construction schedule has been determined a definitive completion date has not been set as The Mosites Company continues to confirm funding.