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Growth-minded: Stark Enterprises’ new Pittsburgh development Smith & Fifth

November 20, 2019

In the early 20th century, the area around Fifth and Forbes avenues in downtown Pittsburgh served as a prominent shopping destination, with flagship department stores Frank & Seder and Kaufmann’s just steps away from each other.

Nearly a century later, that same Fifth and Forbes corridor is poised to make a significant comeback. As downtown Pittsburgh continues to attract residents, demand keeps increasing for not only modern residential space but also for quality retail options. At the same time, many businesses have taken note of this reurbanization and are actively seeking office space so they can enter the downtown market and draw from the widening talent pool. A new development project is positioned to provide supply for this growing demand, and then some.

Cleveland-based real estate developer Stark Enterprises purchased the historic Frank & Seder building, at the intersection of Smithfield Street and Fifth Avenue, in 2017, with plans for a $63 million renovation. Instead of razing the seven-story building, the proposal calls for a full rehab to modernize and update the structure. Additionally, the proposal blends the building’s original retail roots with upstairs offices and residential space.

Stark Enterprises has plans for a $63 million renovation of the historic Frank & Seder building, on Smithfield Street and Fifth Avenue

The new development, aptly named Smith & Fifth, will address the need for additional living space, with 40 apartments on the upper two levels. The midlevel floors will offer 160,000 square feet of prime office space for the businesses seeking to expand into the downtown. Plans also call for some 25,000 square feet of retail space spread over the first two floors, offering mezzanine and street-level shopping and dining options. This includes an agreement with the Boston-based Davios restaurant, which specializes in steak and Italian cuisine.

“It’s all about the experience,” said Ezra Stark, COO of Stark Enterprises. “In every one of our projects, we look at ways to enhance what we call the community core, in order to create density and substance and generate a dynamic, energetic environment. We have seen a great response from our vertically integrated mixed-use properties, and we’re working hard to deliver that same experience at Smith & Fifth.”

With a strong track record of innovative mixed-use development in downtown Cleveland and the surrounding metropolitan area — including such nationally recognized properties as Crocker Park, Eton Chagrin Boulevard and The Beacon — Stark Enterprises says it hopes to repeat its success now in the Pittsburgh market.

“It’s all about the experience. In every one of our projects, we look at ways to enhance what we call the community core, in order to create density and substance and generate a dynamic, energetic environment”

“After we saw the property and met with a few Pittsburgh natives, it really was a no-brainer,” said Stark. “Having grown up nearby in Cleveland, I felt an immediate connection with the city. I saw a lot of similarities in the challenges facing the real estate market, but I also saw a lot of opportunities. At the end of the day, Pittsburgh and Cleveland are very much alike, and we hope to do our part in improving the quality of life in both cities and across the greater region.” 

The similarities between these two cities separated by only a few hundred miles is rather striking. The steady loss of industry closely mirrored itself in both urban centers and paved the way for decades of decline that resulted in the languishing era of the rust belt. However, as a new decade approaches, both cities continue to find ways to grow and to attract businesses and people into the core of the downtown through dedicated efforts to deliver transformative real estate projects like Smith & Fifth.

These projects not only provide an enticing draw for prospective newcomers, but they also help reinvent traditional spaces into something more compelling and innovative: spaces that are thoughtfully designed, that cater to the needs of the community and that are well-equipped with modern amenities to foster a vibrant neighborhood for years to come. In that sense, the Smith & Fifth development presents a pact between Stark Enterprises and the city of Pittsburgh. It represents an opportunity for them to grow alongside each other and to unite their collective expertise to revive a historic retail destination and deliver a dynamic new mixed-use environment to a burgeoning generation of metropolitan residents, workers and consumers.

Ezra Stark

COO, Stark Enterprises