‘A comeback opportunity:’ Developer eyes new project on Penn Avenue as he sees Downtown rebounding

Mark Belko –  Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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Not long ago, Aaron Stauber was among many business owners who raised alarms about safety and cleanliness in Downtown.

But since summer, he has sensed a turnaround — so much so that he may be ready to embark on another big project in the city’s core.

Mr. Stauber, principal and president of Rugby Realty, said Wednesday he’s working with Hullett Properties on a plan to convert an eight-story building Rugby owns at 933 Penn Ave. into roughly 55 residential units. The property now houses an educational institution. But with the lease expiring in June, Mr. Stauber said he’s ready to explore a new use.

It represents the second residential conversion Rugby is considering in Downtown. The other involves the iconic 44-story Gulf Tower on Grant Street, where Rugby wants to turn office space into 190 to 215 residential units and a 150- to 170-room luxury hotel.

Mr. Stauber said he became more enthused about the proposed Penn Avenue project earlier this week when he attended a Christmas party at the Rugby-owned Koppers Building in Downtown and saw how packed it was. He said he’s also sensed an improvement in safety and cleanliness in the Golden Triangle over the past few months. He remembers being upset walking past an alley near the Duquesne Club last summer and seeing a sign urging people not urinate or defecate there. “I was there this time and everything was fine,” he said. He attributes part of the improvement to the installation of portable restrooms at two locations in Downtown and to the controversial closing of the homeless shelter at the Smithfield United Church of Christ on Smithfield Street.Planning Commission unanimously approved two new multifamily projects for the Strip District.

“I’ve seen the turnaround and I really see a comeback opportunity [for Downtown],” he said, adding that everybody is on the same page about the need to maintain the city’s center.

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