ULI Toronto News

Here’s what we learned about the revitalized City of Pittsburgh on the 2017 ULI City Exchange

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Christine Chea, Graywood Developments

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This year’s destination for the ULI Toronto City Exchange was Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with 28 members taking part in a whirlwind tour of the City of Bridges on June 23 and 24. The timing of this tour coincided with Pittsburgh’s recent moment in the spotlight, after the current US President commented that policymakers’ focus should be on “Pittsburgh, not Paris”. On this exchange, ULI Toronto members learned firsthand how far the city has come from the decades-old image of the smoky steel town that many still conjure up when they think of Pittsburgh.

The exchange started off with a delicious boxed lunch from Bluebird Kitchen in the beautiful offices of Strada Architects, located in the historic former headquarters of Alcoa. There, ULI Toronto members met their generous host, Lawrence Fabbroni, of Strada Architects. Fabbroni explained that Strada was the architecture firm behind the restoration of the former Alcoa Headquarters, the world’s first skyscraper with an all-aluminium façade. During lunch, members listened to a primer presentation on downtown Pittsburgh by Brian Kurtz, Director of Economic Development with the Downtown Pittsburgh Partnership before touring the area. Shortly after, ULI Toronto members braved the downpour, armed with umbrellas, rain jackets and ponchos, to embark on a walking tour of downtown Pittsburgh, led by Brian Kurtz. Kurtz toured members around the downtown core to view Mellon Square, the historic Union Trust Building, Market Square, the futuristic Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co. office building, and trendy Penn Avenue.

After a short break, ULI Toronto members were treated to an insightful presentation by Don Carter, Director of the Remaking Cities Institute, School of Architecture at Carnegie Mellon University, followed by a dinner at the Monterey Bay Restaurant overlooking the city. Carter presented his take on how the City of Pittsburgh transformed from the polluted steel-producing city into a leader in tech, environmental design, and business.

After dinner at Monterey Bay, ULI Toronto members ventured out along Penn Avenue in downtown Pittsburgh to take in the night life.

The next morning, Bill Flanagan, Executive Vice President, Corporate Relations of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, and Peg McCormick Barron, Executive Vice President of External Affairs of the West Penn Allegheny Health System, joined members for a delicious breakfast at the cozy and friendly Enrico’s Biscotti Company in the bustling Strip District. Bill spoke of the success the Allegheny Conference on Community Development has had in bringing together public and private sector leaders to execute a cohesive vision for the Pittsburgh region. As active citizens and business people of Pittsburgh, Barron and Flanagan provided their personal stories of how they saw Pittsburgh transform from a more industrially-focused city to a city with a knowledge- and tech-based economy.

Next up was a walking tour of the historic Strip District led by Pamela Austin, Senior Project Manager, Development of McCaffrey Interest (a development firm based in Pittsburgh) and Lynn DeLorenzo, Executive Associate of TARQUINCoRE (a real estate brokerage firm in Pittsburgh) and Chair of ULI Pittsburgh’s WLI Committee. During the tour, members saw buildings that were evidently a part of Pittsburgh’s industrial past. Many buildings in this area were former industrial buildings that have been adaptively transformed into restaurants, shops and living space. One of the first stops was the Cork Factory, which is on the list of Pittsburgh Historic Landmarks and on the National Register of Historic Places. Formerly the Armstrong Cork Factory, McCaffrey Interest transformed the former cork factory into a beautiful rental apartment building with complete with outdoor amenities.

The second-to-last stop was a tour of East Liberty with Robert Rubenstein, Executive Director of the Urban Development Authority of Pittsburgh. Rubenstein shed some insight on the development of East Liberty, from a neighbourhood that nobody wanted to live or spend time in, to a safe, desirable neighbourhood to live in. He attributed East Liberty’s current success to Target’s decision to take a chance and open a store where many typically would not.

The City Exchange concluded at the famous Primanti Brothers sandwich shop, where members dined on their famous stacked sandwiches.

The Pittsburgh City Exchange provided ULI Toronto members with a different perspective on the former steel town. Whether they had been there before or never set foot in Pittsburgh, the incredible roster of presenters and speakers provided unique insight and personal experiences to all members on the City Exchange.

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