By Ken Rice

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Has any city, anywhere, reinvented itself as relentlessly as Pittsburgh has?

Public and private concerns have made creative use of so many things that used to be other things:  Mill sites turned into shopping centers; industrial wastelands transformed into beautiful parks; old buildings —  like train stations and churches — reconfigured to house restaurants, breweries, and more.

And the trend keeps growing.

Case in point: Etna. For decades, the Tippins Company produced steelmaking machinery there, helping forge Pittsburgh’s reputation as an industrial powerhouse. But, what goes on there these days is helping Pittsburgh forge a new reputation — as a creative, artistic powerhouse.

Tom Mosser is among dozens of artists who’ve set up studios in an old Tippins building.

“Art is work and it’s play, but it’s kind of cool to be in part of this big warehouse district,” says Mosser.

Mosser’s workspace is part of “448 studios”. The local company STORExpress noticed that people were using its traditional storage units for non-traditional purposes. So, it renovated this building in Etna specifically for such uses.

Company owner Steve Mitnick says for as little as $150 a month, a space can be yours. They’ve had photographers create studios and personal trainers working with clients, but mostly artists.

“That’s the beauty of this place,” says Mitnick. “It gives people an opportunity who are wannabees to give it a try, not have to put out a lot of money and be able to get started.”

Tom Mosser helped bring one of his students to the building.

Andrea Echavarria works in her own space just across the hall from him. Around the corner, you’ll find the first artist to move into the abandoned building, Kathleen Lolly.

“It’s just nice because you can be part of a community and you can also have your own individual space,” says Lolly.

The art being produced in the old building in Etna is impressive. But, there’s more to this story than what meets the eye. There’s what meets the ear.

STORExpress also has special units that bands use as rehearsal spaces, both in Etna and on the city’s South Side — in part of the old Duquesne Brewery.

Singer Mike Palladini says the bands do their thing in the same building that houses standard storage units.

“We’ll have people that’ll come in here and they’ll wheel stuff up, old beds and stuff. And they’re like, ‘What are you guys doing here?'” he said.

Mitnick says what they’re doing here makes perfect sense.

“Somebody’s wife is never happy about having them practice in the garage, so they would use storage units,” he says.

The rehearsal spaces attract a variety of musical acts. Palladini says it’s an interesting mix.

“The metalheads are kind of weird,” he says with a smile, “But, for the most part, everyone’s really down to Earth.”

Mosser likes all the activity. Like in the old days, these old buildings are once again places of industry, where Pittsburgh is once again going all-out.

“I’ll be here at night, like midnight, one o’clock in the morning, and I’ll hear bands playing downstairs. So, it’s like, people are working it. It’s cool,” Mosser said.

STORExpress says demand for the special units keeps growing. They’re building additional artist units in Etna right now, and every year or two they’re having to add more band rehearsal units.

For more info visit: http://www.storexpressselfstorage.com/448-studios-artspaces/

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