The 22-block-long Strip District is emerging as the Pittsburgh region’s land of opportunity as hundreds of thousands of square feet of commercial space, thousands of workers, and hundreds of new residents are showing up.

    Some say the city’s long-overlooked Strip District sparked to life when the world-renowned Heinz History Center opened in 1996 at 1212 Smallman Street, showcased in an ancient, massive-walled repurposed icehouse that set the model for much of what is happening now.

    What makes the Strip so popular—seemingly suddenly—is its huge tracts of empty level land suitable for new construction, plus a wealth of supremely well-constructed old edifices that lend themselves to retrofitting for contemporary use.

    It’s not only conventional office space that is sprouting, but also new kinds of commercial space supporting the latest types of ventures like small manufacturing, quality testing, artificial intelligence, and robotics.

    There are two special qualities about the burgeoning development in the Strip. One is walk-ability along its dead-level expanse. You could, if you chose, stride the 22 blocks in half an hour or leisurely saunter between 11th and 33rd streets. Ingredient number two is synergy, as commercial development creates good-paying jobs, which generate disposable income for nearby retail, dining, and nightlife opportunities, bolstering those businesses.

    Editorial space prohibits a complete list of Strip developments because there just are so many of them and the roster seems to change daily in this blossoming environment. Here are some of the most significant.

    The Pittsburgh Produce Terminal development dominates the scene, by size and dollar dimensions, forming an immense redevelopment stretching five blocks for 1,700 feet—about a third of a mile—from 16th to 21st Street, along Smallman Street. Constructed in 1926 and originally operated as the Pennsylvania Fruit Auction & Sales Building, the terminal was the site where fresh-produce-laden freight trains were emptied each morning into 75 separate vendor modules or off-loaded to waiting wagons for dispersal throughout the city. Scheduled for completion in mid-2020, the terminal is being retrofitted as a mixed-use facility of 160,000 square feet for retail, restaurant, and office applications, with some 300 public parking spaces.

    1600 Smallman is directly across Smallman Street from the terminal project and is a re-purposed four-story warehouse that had been built in 1921. With expected completion within a year, the development will provide 140,000 square feet of space that will be ultra-customizable, owing to the warehouse-style tall ceilings, plus 35,000 square feet of retail space at ground level. There is an attached 178-stall parking facility and 51 private parking stalls in the basement. The space is being marketed as “trophy quality” because of the unusual exposed brick and steel-beam character of the interior.

    District 15 and District 15 Beta represent two new buildings along 15th Street at Smallman. District 15 is completed; the larger Beta is just beginning construction. District 15 is fully occupied, reportedly by Facebook, in a four-story, 105,000-square-foot configuration. The Beta building at nine stories and 205,000 square feet of commercial space, when completed, will include 5,000 square feet of street-level retail and an unusual two-story, 20,000-square-foot flex space suitable for retail, light industrial, or research and development uses. The complex includes 400 parking spaces.

    3000 Smallman is a newly constructed four-story office building that may be renamed if an anchor tenant is found who exercises naming rights for the 24,000-square-foot structure. Bright and shiny, it’s thoroughly modern with big-window, column-free open spaces of up to 3,000 square feet. There are 60 parking spaces and, possibly coming, a roof-top patio.

    3 Crossings at 27th and Railroad streets is a massive complex of office space. Within the larger development, The Yards at 3 Crossings comprises 300 pet-friendly apartments in studio and one- and two-bedroom configurations. It boasts a one-acre recreational green space and is adjacent to the popular Three Rivers Trail.

    The Cork Factory Apartments at 2349 Railroad Street advertises “chic living” in loft-style apartments in the restored old Armstrong Cork Factory. It offers one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments from 1,001 to 2,247 square feet.

    Lot 24 at 2404 Railroad Street offers studio, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom rental apartments. There are 96 units in the complex. The smallest is a studio at 651 square feet; the largest, with two bedrooms and two baths, measures 1,106 square feet.

    Over in Lawrenceville. There’s an imaginary boundary between the Strip District and the adjacent Lawrenceville neighborhood that occurs at 33rd Street. Just across that line sits the new Doughboy Square at 3459 Butler Street, the very bottom of Lower Lawrenceville, offering 40 luxury apartments, all two-bedroom units of about 1,000 square feet, plus street-level retail and basement parking.

    Still to come. Perhaps the Strip’s most exciting residential development isn’t there yet. Slated to debut next year, Penn 23, at Penn Avenue and 23rd Street, will be an eight-story, high-end, custom-designed condo development to include 21 one- and two-bedroom units priced from $408,000 to $1.4 million. There’s also a $2.5-million penthouse. Projected floor plans range from 920 to 2,589 square feet with private and communal decks and terraces. Other amenities will include a fitness center, generous indoor parking spaces, and bicycle storage.

    William McCloskey is a local writer and editor. Contact him at pghnews.351@gmail.com.