April 30--Rick Newton was looking for a bigger office for his consulting firm, but moving to a derelict shopping center on the North Side was not what he had in mind.
"At first I was like, guys, I am not that excited about that area," the president of management consulting firm Newton Consulting in Claysville said he told his real estate broker at the time. "I've been down to the Allegheny Center Mall way back when it was kind of broken down and that's not the image we wanted to portray."
His attitude changed after he set foot inside the cavernous property now dubbed Nova Place, saying that he bought into the vision for high-tech modern offices there. He signed a lease for more than 7,000 square feet on the fifth floor several weeks ago.
Newton's initial reaction, however, highlights a challenge for Nova Place. The project's backers have struggled to persuade longtime Pittsburghers to detach from their old notions of the 1960s-era mall and grasp exactly what it is becoming.
Nova Place isn't a retail mall. It's not a traditional office complex, with rows of cubicles and corner offices. At 33 acres, the development is larger than the former Civic Arena site, but it's not an event space. Not exactly. So what is it?
Jeremy Kronman calls it "corporate tech."
"Companies aren't just looking for four walls and a window," said Kronman, a broker at CBRE who has been leasing the property. "It's about giving them an environment where all of the pieces work together to allow them to attract and retain talent."
The space is 75 percent leased to a collection of tenants ranging from banks to bistros. Data management company Confluence recently announced it was moving there. So did the coffee roaster La Prima Espresso.
Kronman handles leasing for Bakery Square, which he considers a different animal than Nova Place. Both are designed to be corporate destinations, but while the Larimer office complex reflects a more laid-back university culture, Nova Place leans toward a corporate feel.
When New York developers Faros Properties unveiled their plans last year, Nova Place was pitched as Pittsburgh's next technology hub. It features big common areas to promote a free exchange of ideas between colleagues and companies. But the environment is intended to be professional, with none of the dot-com cliches of pajama-wearing employees riding Razor scooters.
This 21st century tech hub had to strike a balance with existing tenants that include large, established companies such as PNC Bank, said Andrew Miller, Kronman's partner at CBRE.
"It's a little bit less bohemian here," Miller said during a recent tour.
PNC occupies more than a quarter of the complex and has about 1,000 employees there. It recently renewed its long-term lease and believes the larger vision for Nova Place aligns well with its corporate direction, said spokeswoman Marcey Zwiebel.
"We know that providing this type of environment contributes to engagement. It also contributes to our ability to recruit and retain talent," Zwiebel said. "We think the investment happening at Allegheny Center is consistent with this philosophy of providing more open and flexible workspaces."
Not every tenant cares about open office concepts or collaboration. Michael Bregman opened his gourmet hot dog business, BullDawg's, in mid-March at Nova Place based on sheer volume of people working there, which is about 3,000.
He was among the food vendors left searching for a new home when the Pittsburgh Public Market closed in the Strip District several months ago. He brought his food truck there over the winter and, based on the response, opened a small grill inside.
"It's strength in numbers for me," Bregman said.
The food vendors are important amenities, Kronman said. Sharing a bite with co-workers is just as critical to fostering a healthy work environment as anything. And they are also a draw for people that live in the community.
Beyond the tech hub, the developers want to break down the "bunker-like" atmosphere at the building that has for so long isolated the offices inside from people who live in the surrounding neighborhoods, Kronman said. Faros operates apartment towers on the former Allegheny Center grounds.
Nova Place is more than an office renovation -- it's a community development project.
That is what most attracted Rick Newton. He said he has always seen his business as a way to invest in Claysville, where he lives and will keep the company headquarters. Opening a satellite office in Nova Place keeps that same mission.
"That's the switch that flipped," Newton said. "You're trying to do something in terms of impacting the community here and removing the bunker mentality and giving something back to the community."
Chris Fleisher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7854 or email@example.com.
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