A garage where the grass is still greener.

In Pittsburgh’s Strip District, a neighborhood whose fortunes have waxed and waned with each decade, a successful restaurant stands at the foot of low-lying structure.Parking Garage in Strip DistrictI don’t know much about Cioppino and haven’t patronized the establishment, but the fact that it is still around today places it in the more successful half (if not one-quarter) of restaurants. After all, I took the photo in December 2016, and most independent eateries close within two years.

More remarkable, though, is the fact that it—and any retail, for that matter—has survived while housed in an unlikely physical form: a humble parking deck.IMG_6811Don’t get me wrong, The Strip District is—again—a desirable urban neighborhood, having re-emerged after a short-lived peak in the 1990s as Pittsburgh’s go-to destination for nightclubs, followed by an equally rapid fizzle. This time around, the neighborhood just east of downtown is reasserting itself as a more sustainable mixed-use quarter, with offices and residences springing up amidst the specialty restaurants and grocers. But I still find it a bit surprising that a reasonably high-end eatery would choose to lease space at an unremarkable parking garage when more architecturally interesting and attractive alternatives abound. After all, it’s not like this garage is in some hugely traveled pedestrian corridor.IMG_6812Don’t get me wrong: it’s a reasonably dense area, certainly by Pittsburgh’s standards. But it’s a parking garage. Elsewhere in the Strip District, first-floor retail serves as the pedestal for upper floors with apartments, condos and offices, all of which help engage the retail more effectively than a multi-level parking lot. At this off-peak moment on a gloomy Saturday morning, the structure hosting Cioppino is essentially empty.

But not only does the parking deck survive enough to host a successful restaurant, it’s a recent rehabilitation. As this older Google Street View image can attest, it’s not a new building, but it sat in comparative drab neglect and vacancy just a few years ago. The investor gave it a new coat of paint, a the very least.  Frankly, I’m not sure if this parking garage is a product of an extremely skillful, savvy developer, or if the neighboring uses endow the block with a synergy that elevates this otherwise unremarkable streetscape to a jumpin’ entertainment corridor at that special moment.  But—in this era of imploding retail—a success like this restaurant in a space like this parking garage defies all the odds. The commercial development industry is growing highly sensitive to the challenges facing retail, and it’s getting increasingly difficult to convince developers to build first-floor storefront space, even in tightly knit urban corridors and even though the restaurant sub-market continues to show comparatively robust performance. As a general rule, it’s nearly impossible in a medium-density city like Pittsburgh for a building this unremarkable—and with no density of tenants above it—to support much of anything along the first floor. After all, it’s practically akin to a strip mall without parking.

Time will only tell the long-term survivability of Cioppino and the garage, but if the owner, developer or property manager have a secret to their success, I hope they can share it with the rest of the real estate community across urban America.  Urban retail needs intervention.  And suburban retail?  It’s begging for complete resuscitation.

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6 thoughts on “A garage where the grass is still greener.

  1. Alex Pline

    Occam’s Razor: People who go to this high end restaurant drive and can park easily? Would be interesting to note if the restaurant provides free parking validation and whether there is direct access from the garage.

    Reply
    1. AmericanDirt

      You’re probably right, Alex. I’m not sure how easy on-street parking is during busy restaurant hours, but the infrastructure is pretty informal and crudely done, so I’d imagine people can bend the rules in this informal district and get themselves free parking. As for validation, I guess that’s up to an agreement between restaurant and the property manager: a generous parking detail might make the restaurant more attractive, but it could end up hurting the garage owner’s bottom line. I guess that comes down to how much parking availability affects the desirability of a restaurant. My suspicion is that people would be willing to seek out obscure and inconvenient parking….if the establishment is good enough.

      Reply
  2. Brian M

    I didn’t know your name was “Merlinda”. Is Paperhelp implying your writing is poor? Bosh! This is one of the better written blogs!

    Reply
    1. AmericanDirt

      Thanks Brian…I guess I see it as a bit flattering, since it means my blog (despite being almost completely unpromoted, no Twitter, no Instagram, only updates via Facebook) is still getting enough traffic to attract the spammers.

      Reply

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