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Buncher Co. considering workforce housing redevelopment in the Strip District

By Tim Schooley: tschooley@bizjournals.com or 412-208-3826.

First Published June 8th, 2023

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David Heaton sees an unmet need in what is still one of the city’s hottest neighborhoods and leads a company perhaps uniquely positioned to try and supply it.

The need is for housing that doesn’t meet any technical definitions for being affordable yet can be rented by residents who may not be able to afford all the new market rate apartments cropping up in the Strip District.

“The pool of people who want to live in something like that is infinite,” said Heaton, president and CEO of The Buncher Co., based in the Strip District, where the company owns a major concentration of land and buildings.

Heaton spoke as a panelist for a “State of the Strip” event by the Pittsburgh chapter of the Urban Land Institute held at the Mulberry Lofts, a new 112-unit apartment building that opened late last year on Penn Avenue. He was joined by Shawn Kichline, principal of Columbus-based Oxide Real Estate Development, developer of the new building, and Pam Austin, brand ambassador for Burns Scalo Real Estate in a discussion moderated by Brian Redmond, a vice president for PNC Financial Services Group.

Amid a profusion of new multifamily projects throughout the neighborhood, Heaton signaled Buncher may jump into the Strip’s apartment market in the near future, seeking to add apartments at a lower price point.

“We’re looking to make workforce housing in the Strip,” said Heaton, adding of the wave of new apartment developments, “there’s a lot of people with solid, middle-class jobs that can’t afford to live in these buildings.”

Heaton didn’t offer any specifics as to what Buncher properties might be under consideration but he suggested it could be more than one.

Buncher owns a number of mature office buildings along Liberty Avenue in the Strip, including Penn Liberty Plaza I, totaling more than 600,000 square feet, the more than 90,000-square-foot Liberty Technology Center, and the more than 427,000-square-foot Liberty Commons.

He acknowledged that the market has been slow of late, particularly for office, but expects it will pick up again in the future. Buncher has future plans for 60,000-square-foot and 100,000-square-foot office projects on lots it owns.

Kichline reports Mulberry Lofts is generating healthy demand and is about 80% leased so far, with about 60% of the residents of the new building new to Pittsburgh.

He views the Strip District as poised to develop as a true mixed-use neighborhood, building off the tech firms that have moved into new office developments in the vicinity.

Pam Austin, who also lives in the neighborhood and leads the community organization Strip District Neighbors, noted some challenges that include the remaining rail line along the riverfront that continues to limit access to the river. She added there’s a need for new amenities for a new population of residents, such as parks and green space.

She acknowledged other changes as well, such as the completion of the Strip District Terminal, and a profusion of new fitness studios as well as a key advantage of being able “to assemble large parcels for development to really get scale.”

Tim Schooley: tschooley@bizjournals.com