If you have not visited Smallman Street in the Strip District since the pandemic, you may be surprised by the new retail shops and restaurants dotting the historic Terminal. In fact, 17 new businesses have opened in the last year, with 11 businesses in the pipeline, according to an annual report.
The Strip District saw tremendous growth post-pandemic, according to the 2023 State of the Strip District report by Strip District Neighbors. Strip District Neighbors is an organization dedicated to promoting economic development and quality of life in the Strip while preserving and enhancing its integrity and character.
Pamela Austin, president and board chair of Strip District Neighbors, says there are a number of factors that have brought growth to the neighborhood.
“The tech jobs brought people, the large sites attracted developers, and the educated and high median income demographic has attracted retailers,” she says, adding that the proximity to Downtown is another bonus. “We have an authentic market district, which people love as it gives the neighborhood a defined identity.”
People love it so much that the Strip District attracted an estimated 7 million visitors last year.
The third annual report considers five main factors: office and employment, housing and population, retail and hospitality, transportation and development.
Demand is low but office space is abundant
As hybrid work becomes commonplace and companies have begun to downsize office space, there are not many developers willing to build more.
However, the report indicates 2.975 million square feet of rentable office space, with 824,00 additional square feet on the way in the Strip.
Oxford’s 75 Hopper Place at 3 Crossings and Burns Scalo Real Estate’s Vision on Fifteenth have space available, and once Wholey’s Cold Storage Building is demolished, the 21-story office building will have 525,000 square feet of office space.
With more than 9,000 total jobs, the top five employment sectors in the Strip include professional, scientific, and technical services; finance and insurance; management of companies and enterprises; wholesale trade; and information, respectively.
More than two-thirds of Strip District workers make more than $3,333 per month.
Home to more than 3,200 residents
More people are making the Strip their home – the neighbor now has 3,214 residents, a 316% increase since 2015.
But it’s not cheap to live there. The average rent for a studio is $1,520, a one-bedroom is $1,905, and a two-bedroom is $2,832. The report expects the population to double in the next two to three years with 35 units under construction and 2,111 units in the pipeline.
Austin writes in the report that the Strip’s housing market is one of the hottest in the city.
“The Strip District submarket outperformed all others in the City,” she wrote. “Our convenient location, newer housing stock, and dynamic mix of amenities has proven to be a magnet for those wanting to live in an urban environment.”
The City’s Planning Commission recently approved constructing four-mixed use buildings near the 31st Street Bridge, including 750 apartments.
The development at 2121 Smallman St. will have 228 apartments in two large buildings and six smaller buildings. There will be 20 three-bedroom townhouses and 10 two-bedroom apartments. The project is being developed by Chicago-based McCaffery, which also renovated the Terminal.
New shops, restaurants, and experiences
The Strip is known for its classic Pittsburgh restaurants like Primanti’s, Pamela’s Diner, and Kelly O’s. But several new restaurants have opened, with a majority of them in the Terminal building, managed by McCaffery. McCaffery was unavailable for comment at deadline.
The new restaurants include Aslin Beer Co., Chipotle, OddFellows Ice Cream Co., City Winery, and PrimoHoagies. Novo Asian Food Hall, a seven-restaurant dining experience, is anticipated this year.
The Terminal also offers unique high-tech experiences, like mini-golf at Puttshack or immersive gaming at Sandbox VR. It also has low-tech fitness experiences, like Mayweather Boxing + Fitness, Walk Run Lift Studio, and StretchLab.
The Strip is also becoming an accommodations hot zone for visitors to Pittsburgh. With 427 hotel rooms, the Strip has a capacity of 155,855 overnight stays throughout the year. The report indicates hotel stays are rising post-pandemic but remain below 2019 levels.
“Our neighborhood feels very vibrant,” Austin adds. “People are walking around and dining outside. You can hear live music being played. You can shop for specialty foods for cooking. There is a huge coffee culture. There are lots of options for places to meet up with friends.”
Transportation and development
The report notes some challenges with transportation as the Strip District continues to grow.
There is currently one mile of dedicated cycling infrastructure in the Strip, with two POGOH Bike Share stations and one MOVEPGH Mobility Hub.
One proposed solution is to develop a fully connected bikeway. The City’s 2020 Bike(+) plan indicated that crashes involving cyclists have slightly higher concentrations in the Strip District. The 2022 Strip District Mobility Plan found a lack of an east-west connection for the City’s overall bike network and recommends bike lanes on Smallman Street, a two-way protected bike lane on Penn Avenue, and a one-way protected bike lane on Smallman Street and Penn Avenue. The alignment of these projects has yet to be announced.
There are five bus routes in the Strip District with 23 stops, though the report indicates a slowing in ridership due to the pandemic and hybrid work.
The report notes that development has slowed, largely due to the lower demand for office space and higher interest rates. Yet $1.2 billion in development has been completed, with an additional nearly $1 billion in active or proposed developments.