City Charter High School and apartments happily share building Downtown

At 5:25 p.m. one recent evening, Tamara Crane walked into the lobby at 201 Stanwix St., Downtown, and punched the elevator button. She was on her way home to the 10th floor. On the other side of a glass partition, an elevator opened and a teacher got off, finally leaving City Charter High School for the day and exiting onto a plaza behind the building.

Reuse of existing buildings is what PMC Property Group does, but its pairing of purpose in the former Verizon headquarters may be the most unusual of developments and redevelopments in the city — luxury apartments atop a high school, two-thirds of whose students qualify for free or reduced lunch prices.

In fact, the Pittsburgh chapter of the National Association of Office and Industrial Properties is considering 201 Stanwix, among others, for an award for best mixed-use reuse in 2011.

The glass partition separates the four residential elevators from the school’s two. City High moved into the first four floors on Jan. 6. Floors 5-12 include 158 apartments.
“There’s a nice symmetry here,” said Richard Wertheimer, CEO and principal of City High. “We start at 7:30, 8 o’clock, when many tenants leave [for work] and we end at 4:15 or so, before they come home.” The arrangement “makes a great deal of sense. This has been a wonderful relationship. I think it’s very cool.”

PMC — Philadelphia Management and Companies — rents the school’s 80,000 square feet at “affordable market-rate commercial” rate, said Bob Edelman, PMC Property Group’s supervisor in Pittsburgh.

The other 205,000 square feet include 126 one-bedroom and 32 two-bedroom apartments renting from $850 to $2,000. More than half are already rented less than a year after PMC began interior renovations, he said.

Ms. Crane moved in Oct. 1 and was the only person on the 10th floor for five weeks. Now she has neighbors on both sides.

“I found it on Craigslist when I was apartment hunting,” she said. Then living in Honolulu working for the federal government, she was transferred here and called on friends in Pittsburgh to look at the places she was finding online.

“A high school friend here looked in this building and told me, ‘You’re going to love it.’ ”

At first, she didn’t. Not everything was ready and there were a few heating glitches, “but I love it now. I have a small one-bedroom, 650 square feet, and an awesome view. I can see the river and the Fort Pitt Bridge.”

The developer used federal historic tax credits, so it was required to comply with historic standards of the National Park Service. It had to retain the corrugated metal doors in the lobby, the marble columns and walls throughout the building, “the light fixtures that look like flying saucers, anything that shows original details,” Mr. Edelman said.

The executive suites on the 12th floor included marble bathrooms. One apartment has a pull-out liquor bar original to the corporate suite, another a built-in wood file cabinet. Others have wainscoting and double-entrance doors like those of a board room.

The school’s upgrade from its location on Liberty Avenue in the Cultural District included Bell Atlantic’s original 200-seat auditorium.

“This is amazing for us,” Mr. Wertheimer said. “We can put on productions on this stage.”
He said the students were bug-eyed over the marble walls when they began moving in.
City High turns 10 this year and was recently named a bronze medal school by U.S. News. The walls of the administrative area on the first floor are lined with biographies of graduates who went on to college — at a higher rate than the national average.
“We have students from every possible walk of life, but most of our kids are from the inner city,” Mr. Wertheimer said. “We prove with every class that you can achieve greatly no matter where you’re from.”

“This is the first time I’ve done a mixed-use building,” Mr. Edelman said. “I’ve done other [housing] projects for PMC, but this is my first with a school.” He said the collaboration is particularly satisfying because “I am proud of what this school does.”
For the school, the developer created a large cafeteria and kitchen, where a chef prepares fresh lunches.

The move gave the school and its 600 students 18,000 square feet of additional space, larger classrooms, more conference and meeting rooms, science labs with chemistry capabilities and a design to accommodate independent study for 12th-graders.

Built in 1956 as Western Pennsylvania’s Bell Atlantic headquarters, the building was last used by Verizon, which vacated last January. PMC Property Group bought it from Hertz Investment Group for $4.4 million in December 2010.

The developer also owns the 117-unit Penn Garrison apartments Downtown, the New Kenmawr Apartments in Shadyside and has recently closed on the Robin Building on Ross Street, Downtown. It is still doing due diligence on an effort to buy the Regional Enterprise Tower Downtown and wants to buy the former Schenley High School in Oakland.

Mr. Edelman said a former staffer for the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, Patty Burk, “was instrumental in getting us information” about residential need among young professionals for one-bedroom apartments.

“I call them kids. In the age bracket of people coming out of professional schools, 25 to 37 years old, there are a lot of singles who want to live Downtown, don’t want roommates anymore and want minimal space and no clutter because they are going to be moving on later.”

For Ms. Crane, the fit is also perfect for now.

“I’ve never lived right in the middle of a big city before,” she said, “so it’s kind of exciting.”

Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at www.post-gazette.com/citywalk .

Students, Tenants Co-Exist In City Charter School « CBS Pittsburgh.


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