PA Riverfront Development Gets $10M in Funding

MONDAY, MAY 2, 2022

A mixed-use development planned to revitalize an industrial riverfront stretch in Pittsburgh is finally moving forward after receiving a $10 million grant from the Pennsylvania’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program.

The Commonwealth grant program is administered by the Office of the Budget for the acquisition and construction of regional economic, cultural, civic, recreational and historical improvement projects. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the grant is the largest awarded for a project in Allegheny County compared to others in the latest round of RACP funding.

About Esplanade

In early 2019, PaintSquare Daily News reported that renderings for a 15-acre, mixed-use project dubbed “Esplanade” had been delivered with an update for the city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority. Early depictions of the site revealed a Ferris wheel, man-made lagoon, hotel, apartment building and retail space, among other amenities.

At the time, Millcraft Investments, working with design firm AE7, estimated that the project would cost $700 million. In addition to working with AE7 on the design, Millcraft reportedly hired a joint venture between Yates Construction and Massaro Corp. as the general contractor on the project.

Around the same time the renderings were released, in a meeting with URA, it was announced that the board granted a six-month extension for Millcraft to buy several properties around the riverfront, though construction on the development was originally expected to start later that same year.

Millcraft CEO Brian Walker also noted that the project was expected to generate $60 million in one-time taxes and fees for the city and $30 million in annual economic impact. In addition, the project would create more than 800 construction jobs and 2,500 permanent jobs.

Funding Awarded, New Project Timeline

Developer Millcraft Investments was recently awarded an RACP grant totaling $10 million to help finance the Pittsburgh-based Esplanade project, which now has an updated price tag of $600 million.

“Esplanade will create connectivity to the riverfront, amenities and new economic and job opportunities,” said Lucas Piatt, CEO of Millcraft. “The success of our project is in public and private partnerships and working with the community, and we thank all of our partners and the Wolf Administration for this critical $10 million investment in our project.

“With this kind of support, Esplanade will be the gateway to unlocking more than 225 additional acres of riverfront property for sustainable, long-term and community-centered development which means even more jobs, more housing and more community improvements.”

The North Side development, which is still in the planning stages, has reportedly nixed some of the previous construction plans due to logistics and financing. The Chicago Navy Pier-like Ferris wheel centerpiece of the development remains, however, not without some changes.

Slated to be decked out in LED lighting, the amusement ride attraction will now sit on a pavilion, which is also expected to host restaurants, a fresh food market, courtyard, winter garden and other experimental activities. One of the retail buildings in the area is expected to include a “Pittsburgh Firsts” museum highlighting inventions and inventors who hailed from the Steel City—such as Pittsburgh-native, George W. Ferris, who invented the Ferris wheel in 1893.

The pavilion reportedly replaces the $6 million man-made lagoon, which was scrapped due to financial issues and disruption of a railroad right-of-way.

Other elements planned for phase one of Esplanade include:

  • a full-service hotel;
  • a 300-unit apartment building;
  • a 550-space public parking garage; and
  • a marina for houseboats, seasonal and transient slips, and public pier and public safety uses.

Apart from the pavilion, Ferris wheel, retail and restaurants, the revitalized riverfront plans to build a splash park. In the winter months, the lagoon would be converted into an ice-skating track.

In future phases, the developer hopes to construct a 40,000-square-foot aquarium; 300,000 square feet of medical, technical and life sciences space; additional apartments and condos; a hotel; and more parking. These plans are all dependent on market conditions following the COVID-19 pandemic, however.

While the overall project is still in development, Millcraft spokeswoman Molly Onufer reports that the developer is anticipating a groundbreaking in 2024 with the first phase of the project completing just two years later.

The development involves the former J. Allan Steel site in Chateau and the former Eles concrete plant. Both locations were sold to Millcraft in December for $1.5 million. In addition, the developer reports that it has secured several adjacent private parcels for the work.

“Not only is this project important to connect the neighborhoods to the river and create an inclusive community for people to visit, live, work and play, it will also generate millions of dollars annually in taxes that can be used for additional community improvements,” Onufer said in a statement.

In updating the economic impact of the project, the Pennsylvania Economy League estimates that Esplanade will generate 7,100 construction jobs over a six-year, two-phase construction period and 4,500 jobs once it is finished and stabilized.

Esplanade is expected to generate $880 million in annual spending.


Tagged categories: Color + Design; Color + Design; Commercial / Architectural; Commercial Construction; Condominiums/High-Rise Residential; Design - Commercial; Funding; Maintenance + Renovation; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Projects - Commercial; Residential; Retail; Upcoming projects

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