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Heinz factory conversion creates lofty living on North Side

By Alison Conte
Saturday, October 9, 2004

The transformation of the old H.J. Heinz factory on the North Side into luxury apartments could be called the new Industrial Revolution.
Heinz Lofts includes the Bean, Meat, Cereal and Reservoir buildings, which were named for the commodities that were produced or stored inside them. More than 150 of the planned 267 apartments will be available this month.

Boasting great views of the Allegheny River, the Strip District and Downtown, the complex — which formerly housed manufacturing rooms, shipping docks and test kitchens — also will have a cafe, convenience store, community room and fitness center. The varied amenities will make Heinz Lofts “a town within a town,” says Debbie Roberts, property manager for Amore Management Co. of Monroeville, which handles leasing.

“This is precedent-setting in terms of the magnitude of the project,” says Arthur P. Ziegler Jr., president of the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation. “It is one of the most historically significant industrial complexes in Pittsburgh.”

Renovating challenges

This kind of industrial renovation and historic reuse is the specialty of the Ferchill Group of Cleveland, which is undertaking the $70 million project. Chief executive officer John Ferchill developed the Bridgeside Point Building at the Pittsburgh Technology Center and also is remodeling the Pabst Brewery in Milwaukee, Wis., into a residential and entertainment complex.

“We do a lot of renovations of old warehouses,” says Michael Wellman, project manager. His firm, Sandvick Architects of Cleveland, is familiar with the building codes that can be applied to older buildings and the challenges in historic preservation.

“The factory doesn’t naturally lend itself to a layout for housing,” says Jonathan Sandvick, principal of the firm. “We need to accommodate long, deep spaces and high ceilings.”

The challenge led to unusual floor plans. Because of the width of the building, each apartment has a long hallway leading in from the central corridor. In some units, the bedrooms, laundry and baths are off these hallways. Others feature a galley kitchen along the hall. Think of an ocean liner without interior cabins, where every stateroom has a porthole.

At the end of the halls, the living areas are saturated with natural light from the large square or semi-round arch windows that fill the exterior walls.

“We use borrowed light from these spaces, and interior windows to bring light to the bedrooms,” Wellman says.

This design leaves plenty of room for large living/dining areas with high ceilings, some of which include a fireplace, den or roof deck. For easy entertaining, many models have a kitchen and breakfast bar as part of the living rooms.

The architects faced a hefty challenge of working with the factory’s original equipment and structural elements such as pipes and columns, exposed brick, ductwork and steel beams.

“We celebrated these features, used them as sculpture in the spaces throughout,” Sandvick says. The 15-foot-high ceilings offered height to spare, so multiple levels with steps up or down to bedrooms have been incorporated.

Keeping the past intact

Because the Heinz factory is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the developer is eligible for a 20 percent tax credit if it follows certain conditions regarding reconstruction, Wellman says. This includes preserving the original exterior and one-third of the window frames.

Along with extensive cleaning of the masonry work, Roberts says, 2,000 new windows had to match the look and feel of the existing ones.

Two of the towers that the factory used will be brought back to serve as a gateway to the site. “We are also saving or reconstructing six of the bridges that connect all the buildings on the third, fourth or fifth floor,” Wellman says.

In the fifth-floor penthouse apartment of the Cereal Building, builders are using a window for a door. To get to their private roof deck, residents will mount a short staircase and duck through 4-foot-tall windows that have been converted to 4-foot-tall doors. The quirky arrangement is part of the charm.

Other remnants of the buildings’ past will be found in reconditioned stairwells, where the wood railings, terrazzo tile and ironwork are being cleaned and painted. To preserve the Heinz legacy, Sandvick says, some of the common areas will be decorated with Heinz 57 memorabilia and artifacts found during the construction.

Bridges that connect the buildings will allow residents to walk from one of the 500 garage parking spaces in Shipping, pick up mail and dry cleaning in Cereal, and stroll to their home in Reservoir, unencumbered by weather. Indoor parking is just one of the features drawing potential tenants to the site.

“People at all stages of life like the location, the amenities and the variety of floor plans,” Roberts says. “They can get public transportation to the city or walk over the bridge to the Strip.”

The Cereal building will be the “town square” for Heinz Lofts, where residents can gather in a community room with a kitchen, TV and fireplace. There also will be an indoor/outdoor cafe, mailboxes, convenience store, dry cleaning pickup and coin-operated laundry.

A business services center offers a conference room, fax, wireless Internet and conference call capabilities. Exercise equipment, a sauna, individual lap pool and hot tub are features of the fitness center.

For the ultimate Heinz Lofts living experience, one of the newly reconstructed towers will be part of a two-bedroom apartment. Another apartment will be incorporated into the rebuilt bridge and suspended three stories off the ground.

The Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, which has been involved in the factory restoration, further protected the buildings by accepting a facade and development rights easement from the Ferchill Group. Nothing can be built over or above them — the exterior must continue to look like the historical buildings of the factory. Landmarks has permanent control over any changes to the exterior, foundation President Ziegler says.

Because the easement restrictions diminished the value of the property, Ziegler says, John Ferchill was able to take a charitable contribution, obtaining substantial dollars in federal tax deductions that helped his funding needs.

“The factory will look the same — the fine arched windows and red brick,” Ziegler says. “But it is better because people will be living in it. It brings housing close to town, to the river and the North Side, helping development in all these areas.”

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Phone: 412-471-5808  |  Fax: 412-471-1633