By Sean Armstrong
With the Triangle Building project about to commence construction by the developer Hullett Properties, founded by Breanna Tyson, Downtown CDC decided to sit down with Breanna Tyson and Brett Walsh, the couple behind this project, to understand their plans.
Why Pittsburgh for property development?
Breanna Tyson (BT): I moved to Pittsburgh April 2018 to undertake my 2554 Smallman condo/retail development, which is currently in construction, with my new real estate development company and chose to move to Pittsburgh given the real estate dynamics I had researched on this market relative to other US markets.
What made you interested in developing the Triangle Building?
BT: I stayed at the Kimpton Hotel off and on while transitioning to Pittsburgh. I was a big fan of Nicky’s Thai Kitchen and from the Kimpton Hotel I would walk down 7th Avenue and I would always stop at the corner of Smithfield to stare at the Triangle Building. The work we will do on the Triangle Building will include bringing back the original streetscape look by returning the height of the storefront windows by reintroducing glass to the transom windows as they would have looked originally. Pittsburgh really suffers from a lack of good quality interior design and we believe that this is a lost opportunity.
Brett Walsh (BW): I moved to Pittsburgh late last year to join Breanna and I have worked on historic redevelopment projects in Vancouver and in fact won a national design award for a project I managed there called the Ormidale Block. Sometimes the difficulty in seeing streetscape improvement downtown is getting owners to understand the expense necessary to bring historic buildings up to code in a change of use and what that means for what a developer can pay to acquire them for redevelopment. A lot of acquisitions don’t get done because of this.
What do you feel the main issues are for real estate in the downtown area and Pittsburgh overall?
BW: The main issues confronting Downtown is the lack of residential population size and quality of retail. I am defining ‘Downtown’ as the Golden Triangle and so I am not including the Strip District, which I believe has a related but unique set of circumstances. The question is ‘How do we create a setting that would spurn residential growth and better retail to the Downtown core?’ The good news is that a transition to a knowledge-based economy – which is what we are seeing in Pittsburgh – stimulates a residential movement back to the core of cities from the suburbs. The densification associated with this I believe has an economic rationale that something like COVID will not alter. We do see high-value retailers like Apple, Rolex, Lululemon who choose to be in Pittsburgh but at the same time choose not to locate Downtown. We need to create a Downtown environment to change this. Breanna and I gain a lot of comfort from the good work we have seen undertaken by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and the work of organizations such as the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership. We are also engaging with Community Kitchen Pittsburgh and Partner4Work as low-income individuals living Downtown need to be incorporated within the strategies for positive change we want to see Downtown.
BT: There is significant importance for the Triangle Building to house an impactful retailer because of the access to the building from all three sides situated on its own block and its location opens up the opportunity for revitalization on Smithfield extending to 6th Avenue. Our approach is to find a retailer and build the development around that experience and create an integrative design with the other use above grade so there is a connection between the uses and see retail as a primary use rather than an afterthought as we sometimes see in other developments.
What do you think the effects will be of the pandemic in your industry and other adjacent industries?
BW: I believe that the pandemic will simply speed up the changes that have already been underway – virtual communication, virtual offices, takeout/delivery food services, e-commerce taking a larger share of all retail business given the ease of delivery and filtering capabilities it offers. One of the things Breanna and I do is we seek out ‘best in their class retailers’ who by the very fact they offer greater value are more sustainable businesses and therefore more reliable tenants. We can witness the importance of this when crises are experienced like COVID and we see what businesses survive and what businesses do not. There are great creative uses for retail that will thrive in this world of increasing virtual reality and e-commerce.
What is your investment strategy for the Triangle Building?
BW: Breanna and I intend to hold the Triangle Building long term as an investment. Our daughter was born in Pittsburgh 7 months ago and we are looking forward to raising a family here in Pittsburgh.