march 14, 2008

Project Watch: Pittsburgh’s Baum-Liberty Mixed-Use Development
Developers to build “live-stay-work-play complex”

by Tracy Ostroff
Contributing Editor

How do you . . . program a mixed-use facility?

Summary: DOC-Economou is in the preliminary design phase of a mixed-use complex at the site of a former car dealership on two main arteries in Pittsburgh’s historic Bloomfield and Shadyside neighborhoods. The 1.2 million-square-foot project will feature upscale townhouses and condominiums; a multilevel interior arcade with offices, a medical facility, and retail space; and a high-quality hotel. It’s all part of a $230–$250 million development of a “live-stay-work-play” complex in the SouthSide Works.

As it stands now, the development will span seven acres on three city blocks and will include 350,000 square feet of boutique retail shopping, 58,000 square feet of street level commercial retail, and 300,000 square feet of space for office and medical facilities. Additionally, there will be a 120-room high-quality hotel with the upper levels including 150 condominiums and townhomes. The lower levels will offer ample underground parking.

The architects are carefully considering the massing and shading of the site, making sure it is pedestrian friendly and kind to its urban neighbors. They are planning right now on seeking a LEED® Silver certification, building by building, from the USGBC, says project architect Paul Grimes.

Being contextual
The project is the fruit of the relationship of DOC-Economou, a partnership between Development Opportunity Corporation and Economou Partners. The team handles each component of the process, from the initial planning and market research phases to design and construction, through leasing and managing the property. Economou Partners bring design, construction, and retail and office development experience, while DOC has full-service hotel development skills. The Baum-Liberty project is the firm’s largest to date, notes the Pittsburgh Business Journal.

The project, located near the Hillman Cancer Center, Shadyside Hospital, University of Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and other medical and education facilities, is at the heart of what the team calls the “Ed-Med” area of Pittsburgh. The team is looking to capitalize on the area with development that is particularly attractive as medical offices and residences for doctors, students, educators, and researchers. It has easy access to public transportation and the downtown core.

The team will implement the plan in phases, says Thomas Economou, AIA, principal of Economou Partners, which is headquartered in Park Ridge, Ill. He, along with brother and principal Steve Economou, AIA, and the rest of the design and development team are in discussions with major retailers and a yet-to-be-named major luxury hotel.

The team believes this phased-in approach in this prime area for growth helps guard against market swings. Beyond that, they are optimistic that the higher-end design, with “super higher-end residential” is a long-term project that will be generate interest for the community and profit for their bottom line. The team is also looking to the LEED rating to generate interest and to use it as a marketing tool.

Architects as developers
“The Baum-Liberty site is located in two of Pittsburgh’s premier neighborhoods—Bloomfield and Shadyside—which boast bustling business districts, attractive architecture, and thriving communities, making it a perfect area for an upscale mixed-use development like this,” says Phil Hugh, a principal of DOC-Economou.

As a principal in the development, the architects wear different hats throughout the research, design, construction, and marketing process. As young architects, the firm took risks and did more up-front design work to help solidify financing and create a larger interest base, says Thomas Economou. They started off doing smaller developments and worked their way up. “It was a lot of time and sweat equity,” he recalls.

DOC-Economou now has a half-dozen other substantial mixed-use projects in the works from Florida to Milwaukee


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Renderings courtesy of DOC-Economou.