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Brownfield Redevelopment in Pittsburgh

Yoohyung Joo


The South Side, a successful example of mixed use development

The Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh and Brownfield Redevelopment

The URA (Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh) is part of the economic development in the city of Pittsburgh. The agency covers a broad variance of work ranging from Brownfield redevelopment for the recreation of the abandoned property to building community.  It manages diverse programs namely, housing, financing, business assistance and sustainable development. It has succeeded in inducing private investment. Private and public partnerships are the main characteristics of their economic development project. The URA has six representative projects: South Side, Summerset at Frick Park, Bedford Hill, Pittsburgh Technology Center, Washington’s Landing, and Crawford Square. Among these, South Side is the biggest venture. This work is a Brownfield project, which recreates the abandoned place into one of the most vibrant areas in Pittsburgh. In this research, I will examine the process of the development and illuminate the crucial factors of this successful transformation.


       History and Geography of the South Side

The South Side of Pittsburgh is located to the south of the Monongahela River.  This proximity to the river, and profuse coal supply allowed LTV Steel to settle down, placing its roots here in the early 19th century. The Steel and Iron industry prospered and as a result of the proliferating business, iron and steel workers and a lot of immigrants from Eastern Europe came to this area at the end of the 19th century. Immigrants from various countries settled down and formed their own villages including schools and churches of their native languages. This area was customarily inhabited by low income industry workers.1)

LTV Steel ceased operation in the early 1980’s and the site was abandoned. The trend of suburbanization and loss of jobs triggered population decline in that area. This also damaged small businesses owned by several families. This situation reinforced the area’s low income status.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh (URA) purchased the company’s 123 acre site and then this locale was transformed into a vibrant mix of residential, commercial, light industrial and R&D development due to coupled public and private investment. This change induced a population increase and brought rebirth of the South Side. 



Process and Outcome

Table 1. Private Investment 


New Establishment


Size (sq.ft)



UPMC (U of Pittsburgh Medical Center) distribution center



Creation of 80 more jobs


Life Science Center



Pittsburgh Industrial and Economic Development Corporation , the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center involved


UPMC Sports Medicine Facility



Medical office and training center


IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers)



A 19,000 sq.ft. ballroom, a  31,000 sq.ft educational training area, and 40,000 sq.ft. of primary and secondary offices





 Four-story complex

2000- 2001

Quantum One Office Building



  2) 41,040

1) Four-story office and retail building, prime tenant: UPMC.                      
2) Three-story office, retail building


  1) 2000~2001

2) 2001

Quantum Two Office Building



Six-story office building


Soffer Mixed Use Development



Three-story, mixed-use building, 42,076sf of retail & 81,446sf of loft residential 84 multifamily units.


Rivertech Center



Three-story office building, 150 new jobs


Multifamily Housing



Three-story 270 unit complex


Matcon Diamond



 58 to 68 jobs created.


Immigration and Naturalization Service



Three-story  office building, 50 jobs


Soffer Mixed Use



Three-story retail and office space.


Soffer Mixed Use with cinema



Retail and upper level screen cinema.


Soffer Cheesecake Factory



360 seat and 72 seat outdoor patio


Rodriguez Housing












After URA took responsibility for this site, it sold the property in portions to several private companies.  Commencement of this revitalization process began in 1995.  In September, 2004 this was completed and business offices opened. This project was headed by Sasaki Associates of Boston. It formulated a framework plan, which brought an agreement, accepted by the community and city alike. The project progressed via public and private partnership.   

Table 1 shows various sources of private investment. These several funding sources resulted in creation of mixed use development. In this project, the real estate development company, Soffer Organization, is mainly engaged. It constructed several mixed-use buildings, one of which includes JP Morgan Chase Bank, occupying 3,000 square feet. 2) In the case of JP Morgan, the South Side is its first office for the Chase Home Finance Unit. Especially this table suggests that medical, and life technology centers such as the UPMC (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center), as well as the Life Science Center are big anchor tenants. This demonstrates the area’s successful change. In the South Side, not only offices, but also numerous retail shops exist. The number of retail shops is around 230. There are 51 restaurants, 37 bars, and 25 clothing and accessories shops. In addition, there are 11 galleries, and seven arts and crafts shops. 3)

Overall, 180 stores create more than 90 million dollars in cash flow. The aforementioned lists show that the South side has transformed from an industrial town into a work, cultural, and entertainment center. Now, it affords people an opportunity to work and enjoy amenities. The private business development required public infrastructure, which encourages people to come to the area.  Public investment for this project included expanding roads, installing     parking garages, constructing the Monongahala Connecting Bridge, and building parks.     




Table 2. Public Investment




Public Institution




City/URA Funding


Renovation of Monongahela Connecting  Bridge(MONOCON)


Private Garage Funding


Hot Metal Bridge


State Funding




Pittsburgh Water& Sewer Authority


Parking Garages


Tax Increment Financing (HUD Section 108 Loans:$11,000,000)



HUD Brownfield Economic Development Initiative(BEDI) Grant



HUD Economic Development Initiative(EDI) Grant



Other Sources





t ltalToTotalataltotaT-



Table 2 shows the public investment in the South Side project. The most notable feature of the infrastructure is the Renovation of the Monongahela Connecting Bridge. It increased accessibility to the area and made its transformation from an industrial town to a vibrant mixed-use place successful. The former railroad bridge for the steel industry was converted into a two lane vehicular bridge.4) This bridge connects the South Side with Oakland and the downtown and it helps maintain proximity to the downtown. This connection facilitates the flow of people to and from downtown.

       The Overall Impact

In this project, private and public investment was $323 millon. Due to this 1,420,000 sq.ft. project, 354 residential units and 5,400 jobs were newly produced and it is estimated that the city receives about 8 million dollars in real estate taxes per year.  Also, this development increased property value and the median family income level of this area. The 2000 median income level is $44,260, which doubled from $23, 722 in the early 1990’s. The Median House value of South Side according to the 2000 census data was $73,900, which was before completion of the apartment complex.5) This value was higher than Median house value of Pittsburgh which was $59,700.6) This was a dramatic increase from $34,433 in 1990. It was even below that of Pittsburgh, which was $40,500 during the same time period. The house value of this area increases by 114.6%, while that of Pittsburgh grew by 47.4%. These newly built houses have drawn a lot of people and its occupancy rate continues to remain high compared to other areas in Pittsburgh.

       Housing Development Impact

Business development creates jobs and offers people a space for work and relaxation. However, the most important part of this project is its residential development. Without the housing development, this business development alone wouldn’t succeed as it does now. Residential units attract people who might migrate from the city to the suburbs. The houses provide a stable population and this can contribute to the vibrancy and business development in this area. The residents are potential consumers for the area’s businesses. It is not only the location of the newly built houses in the new business district of South Side, but also how those houses are designed that is crucial in inducing people. There are 354 residential units in this project and among these, 84 units are located in mixed-use buildings.  Figure 2 shows a mixed-use building, which has a pleasant and refined design. This is one factor to draw middle or high income people into South Side and makes the area more competitive compared to suburbs. (source of Figure 2 image:

The façade of the building is in harmony with the rest of this area. It shares simple design with other buildings, but it also has buttresses which make it unique in that setting. The broad sidewalks facilitate people’s movement and connect each building in the entire vicinity. This pedestrian oriented design appeals to people’s attention and enforces the image of livable place. These new urbanist principles stimulate people’s demand and increase the value of the property. This value increase makes high tax revenues for the city and the local economy.

However, the low mortgage interest rate allows people to easily access to the sector. They can purchase houses at affordable prices. In addition, neighborhood planning proceeded by The South Side Local Development Company (SSLDC) has developed affordable housing, which is below the market rate. It has already built 26 housing units in Fox Way Commons and these houses include the renovations of warehouse buildings and infill projects.7) It also developed 51 housing units which made over $5 million in real estate taxes.8) Moreover, mass production of a 270 unit multifamily housing prevents rent from soaring. This affordable housing with reasonable prices can attract young professionals who work in the South Side business area, Pittsburgh downtown, or Oakland where two major universities are located. The affordable price of housing, and easy accessibility to work, keep these people in this area and stabilize the workforce for South Side businesses and the local economy alike.

This housing development establishes a compact neighborhood and forms a sense of community. This requires well-organized community service such as education and health. The South Side Local Development Company also operates a neighborhood assistance program and reinforces it within the community. In this area, 133 individuals are provided with job training and this also can contribute workforce growth. Actually 119 individuals obtained jobs from this assistance in 2003. 

Housing development attracts people and stabilizes the workforce. This forms a large consumer base which can facilitate capital flow and business growth. The business development also creates more jobs and enforces the area’s economy. It helps the formation of a healthy and viable community.  This vibrancy makes property more attractive and increases demand for the property.  The value of property increases and the city receives higher returns on property taxes. The public sector can initiate other projects for community service and welfare, too. Throughout this whole process, local economy develops and more pleasant places are generated. This cycle shows housing plays a very important role in developing economy.      


This project represents public and private partnership investment. Private retail, office and residential units, which were funded by private firms, also required public infrastructure improvements such as road and parking garage development. Harmonious work between public and private sectors revitalized the abandoned land. The property that used to be occupied by a steel industry had environmental risks that were a challenge to revitalization. Also, socially this area retained a strong image of a worker’s town, but transformation, accelerated by public and private cooperation, was successful. The South Side improved from low income and undeveloped status to become one of the most vital places in Pittsburgh. For the public sector, this development is the general purpose and mission, and for private companies it helps them to make a profit. 

Also, harmony between design and policy facilitates revitalization.  The success of the project shows that design and policy are not contradictory. They are more likely cooperative. The sophisticated design attracts more people and helps the policy’s purpose, which is to increase population and tax revenue. This increase is a potential factor for economic development.

The project demonstrates that public and private sector or design and policy are closely related. These seemingly dichotomous two factors receive synergetic benefit from each other’s support. The South Side project represents this cooperation.


1.  The South Side Neighborhood Plan 2000 in South Side Planning Forum, Pittsburgh, PA 2000






7.  Sabina Deitrick and Cliff Ellis, “The Importance of Design”

8.  South Side Local Development Company 2003 Annual Report.



Figure 2:

Table 1:

Table 2: