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Cork Factory apartments get bubbly reviews

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Ron DaParma and Sam Spatter
For the Tribune-Review
Saturday, May 5, 2007

Debbie Dougherty gushes superlatives when she describes the two-bedroom loft apartment that she and her husband, Bill, share at the new Cork Factory apartments in the Strip District.

“It’s just so wonderful. We’re enjoying every minute of it,” said Dougherty, whose seventh-floor corner unit offers views of both the Allegheny River and Downtown. “We have brick walls and 17-foot ceilings, and it’s incredible,” she said.

Because her husband is retired and their four children have grown and moved, Dougherty said the couple decided to downsize from their large family home in Murrysville. They moved in March to the 297-unit luxury Cork Factory complex, which celebrated its grand opening Friday.

With 135 apartments — about 45 percent of the units — already scooped up by renters, the $70 million project is well ahead of its leasing goals, said Daniel McCaffery, of Daniel McCaffery Interests of Chicago.

“We’re very pleased,” said McCaffery, who developed the site in partnership with Charles Hammell III and Robert Beynon, the local businessmen who own the property on Railroad Street between 23rd and 24th Streets.
“The important thing is we are making our rental rate and renting at a pace that’s faster than we predicted,” McCaffery said.

The developers expect the percentage figure will be close to 70 percent as early as the fall.

In addition to the apartments, interest also is high in the 48,000-square-feet of retail space available, he said. Leasing deals may be pending with two upscale restaurants and a local grocery store, he said.

The three-building complex originally was built as the home of the Armstrong Cork Co. in 1901. The estimated development is privately financed although federal tax credits for historic sites cover some of the costs.

So far, tenants are a mixture of young single professionals, many newcomers to the Pittsburgh, a smattering of suburbanites and elderly residents, said Debbie Roberts, Cork Factory general manager.

“We’ve met so many nice people,” Debbie Dougherty said. “We’ve even formed a dinner-out once-a-month group with people here, and it’s all ages — the young, the baby boomers and so forth.”

Now that leasing of apartments is well under way, the development team can move ahead on their plans to develop a private marina on the Allegheny River for the exclusive use of Cork Factory residents.

Also ahead is a river walk that will allow tenants to walk the grounds of the complex.

Other features include the historic, fully restored smokestack and engine room.

Under its current configuration, the complex offers 206 one-bedroom units; 73 two-bedroom, two-bath units; and 18 three-bedroom, two-bath units.

Studio apartments rent from $1,200; other one-bedroom units from $1,009 to $2,480; two-bedrooms from $1,499 to $2,850; and three-bedrooms from $3,430 to $3,800.

The complex offers a game room, 24/7 concierge service, complimentary wireless Internet in select common areas, and out-of-town services such as mail, newspaper and package pickup.

Other features, either already available or scheduled to be opened in the future, include patio/lounge area with fire pit, riverview barbecuing, swimming pool with landscaped deck, hot tub/spa, a courtyard garden, a fitness center, business center, dry cleaners and a 450-car parking garage located across Allegheny Valley Railroad Street.

As the Cork Factory nears completion, Hammel and Beynon can look back on nearly 11 years of frustration since they bought the property in a bankruptcy court sale in 1996.

Several times other investors had come board to help with the project, only to drop out before it could move forward.

“Today is culmination of a lot of hard work,” said Hammell, owner of the Pitt-Ohio Express trucking company in the Strip District. Beynon is owner of Beynon & Co., a Pittsburgh-based real estate and insurance company.

“I think it’s awesome what they’ve done with that building,” said Larry Lagattuta, owner of The Enrico Biscotti Co., an Italian bakery and cafe at 2202 Penn Ave. in the Strip.

“I think this can only help the Strip when you have more people living here,” said Lagattuta, whose has operated his business within two blocks of the Cork Factory for 15 years.

Lagattuta said his only concern is that the Cork Factory and other new developments in the Strip could attract national chains and franchise retailers, coffee shops, and the like that could possibly hurt locally owned businesses.

“We have to be careful about how those things happen,” he said. “But otherwise, lets get the people moving in and start shopping in the Strip,” he said.

“The Cork Factory is an excellent addition to the downtown housing mix,” said Patty Burk, vice president of housing and economic development for the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership.

“It adds to the diversity of units and income ranges that we are trying to achieve Downtown. It also represents the ‘New Downtown,’ which is becoming a mixed-use environment.”

“Even when were living in Murrysville, we would come into the city at the minimum, three days a week, for cultural events and ball games,” Dougherty said. “We loved the city so much, so we visited a few other loft apartments, but when we walked into the Cork Factory, we stopped. We said this was it.”

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

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Pittsburgh, PA 15219

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