The CONSOL Energy Center is expected to revitalize what has been a run-down stretch of Fifth Avenue in Uptown, but it’s hard to find many signs that economic development is happening.
Not far from the new arena is the Salad Café, now in its third year of operation. So far, business hasn’t been up.
“I’m hoping business starts picking up once the Penguins are in season and more concerts start arriving,” Gina Geiss, co-owner of the Salad Café, said.
Geiss is upbeat and already expanding her restaurant hours to take advantage of an expected one million visitors to the arena in the coming year.
“We weren’t open when the old arena was here, but since the new arena is right there, we will be open,” she said.
Still, the Fifth Avenue corridor has been slow to develop with vacant buildings and lots of “For Sale” signs across from the arena.
Rob Stephany of the city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority remains optimistic.
“We have an authentic Main Street here on Fifth Avenue,” he said. “The architecture of these buildings albeit worn are second to none, really great pieces of architecture.”
Just two blocks off Fifth Avenue, many think Duquesne University is the key to developing Fifth Avenue.
Already, the university has purchased several buildings along the street and of course the thousands of students on campus are a ready market for stores on Fifth Avenue.
Restaurants like the Souper Bowl want that business.
“We have a lot of stuff for Duquesne students and Pitt students too – any college ID gets you the special,” Carly Sypherd, co-owner of the Souper Bowl, said.
Since the opening of the new arena, restaurateurs say the crowd is more diverse and younger, like when Lady Gaga performed.
“We were crushed. We were packed,” Sypherd said.
More of that is key to developing Fifth Avenue.
“It’s just a matter of getting these early stage pioneers to start to prove this marketplace and then I think you’ll start to see some of the other folks follow,” Stephany said.
The pioneers are here but they want some company. Part of the problem is some building owners are holding out for a higher price, which is not likely in this economy.
Those most willing to take a risk to open up a business are not able to get the financing to buy.
Also, what happens with the Civic Arena could also have a big impact on Fifth Avenue.