In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a new developer has just come to town.
Milhaus Development, one of the largest developers in the Midwest, began scouting the City of Bridges in 2014, and almost immediately set its sights on Lawrenceville, a neighborhood on the east side of the city.
“Here was a neighborhood that has some of the best restaurants, shops and bars in the city so we knew right away that people wanted to be here, but there was a lack of any amenitized apartment structures,” says Vice President of Development, Thomas Bost.
Milhaus found the ideal location to fill that void in a 12.75-acre lot between 39th and 40th streets on the very edge of lower Lawrenceville—a site that was once the Allegheny Arsenal, the largest arsenal for the Union army during the Civil War.
But by 1906, the arsenal was being used as storage facilities and public warehouses, which Bost says clashed with the aesthetic of the rest of the neighborhood.
“The site was completely underutilized. Everything else on the block was small boutique retail shops, local owners, entrepreneurs and startups, so it just didn’t fit in,” he says. “We wanted to connect that block with the rest of the thriving business district.”
For the next two years, Milhaus worked with Pittsburgh city officials as well as local Lawrenceville organizations and residents, to design a multi-phase, mixed-use development called Arsenal 201. The three building complex includes 243 apartments and 19,046-square-feet of retail space with dedicated parking. Bost says Milhaus is also trying to honor the site’s history through its many amenities, such as the Cannonball Deck and Pool, the Canteen Resident Lounge, Ammunition Fitness Center and much more.
In October 2016, Pittsburgh-based general contractor, Franjo Construction, broke ground on the project and Milhaus is expected to prelease apartments in summer 2017.
It takes a community
Bost says Arsenal 201 represents the type of projects Milhaus does best.
“We like to choose our projects in strong second-tier cities, [or smaller cities], like Pittsburgh, because we see these cities are the places people want to be,” he says.
With its headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana, Milhaus has developed mixed-use properties across the Midwest, in Milwaukee, Kansas City, Memphis and Cincinnati, as well as in southern states, like Oklahoma, Arkansas, Florida and the Carolinas.
No matter the state, Milhaus always begins a project by meeting with the community around the development, Bost says.
“We try to incorporate the neighborhood’s input, and from an urban planning standpoint, we know how to work within their needs and make a good development that fits,” he says. “We don’t develop these properties to sell off, we’re in it for the long haul and we like to be community advocates for that reason.”
“We don’t develop these properties to sell off, we’re in it for the long haul and we like to be community advocates for that reason.” – Bost
For instance, it was during these many meetings with Lawrenceville’s community organizations and historical societies, that Milhaus realized how important it was to the neighborhood that the name of the project include the word “arsenal.”
Milhaus agreed it was important to pay homage to the history of the site, but it also wanted to celebrate what the neighborhood had become, which is why it added the last three digits of Lawrenceville’s zip code to the name.
The developer went a step further in capturing the history of the site by repurposing as many materials as it could from what was left of the original building, such as using the original steel to build light posts and bike racks. Milhaus is also working with local app developers to create an augmented reality app so people can see what the building looked like in the 1800s simply by pointing their phone at the new complex.
By January 2016, Franjo Construction had finished sitework for the three buildings and was about to start framing, termed as phase one.
This phase will also include a large pedestrian walkway called Arsenal Alley that will run straight down the middle of the site, passing cafés and green landscapes, before arriving at a one-acre public park.
“The idea is that this walkway will encourage people to walk from Butler Street, which is the artery of Lawrenceville’s business district, all the way back to the park and then on to the Allegheny River,” Bost says.
Ever since the 1850s, the Allegheny River, as well as the Ohio and Monongahela Rivers of Pittsburgh, were used solely for the city’s steel production. But Bost says more neighborhoods should realize that these rivers are an asset, and he hopes that Arsenal Alley and the entire Arsenal 201 project will help people appreciate its natural beauty.
Construction of Arsenal Alley will be finished in phase two of the development, which Bost says is all about “finding ways to incorporate the neighborhood by weaving it through the project.”
For instance, because the original site was designed as an arsenal, certain streets in the neighborhood were interrupted to accommodate the enormous building.
“Lawrenceville really wanted to connect those streets as a way of connecting the whole neighborhood, so in being good partners with the community, we gave up a portion of our property to connect lower and central Lawrenceville,” Bost says.
As a Pittsburg native, Bost sees a lot more projects like Arsenal 201 in Milhaus’ future.
“This city has a great urban core, and we feel very strongly that Pittsburgh has plenty of room for more development,” he says.
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