Point Park Lifts Curtain on New Pittsburgh Playhouse Project

When Point Park University envisioned a new Pittsburgh Playhouse, located in the heart of Downtown Pittsburgh, one of its foremost considerations was to create a state-of-the art learning center where students could merge their energy, talent and ambition into a central location.

They wanted a unique design that would create a dynamic learning center and Downtown cultural destination.

Recently, the University revealed the result of that academic vision with renderings of the new Pittsburgh Playhouse. Set to open in 2017, the 92,000-square-foot structure will be located on approximately 1.6 acres of land along the Forbes Avenue corridor between Wood and Smithfield streets. The site is close to two major, ongoing construction projects – PNC’s new world headquarters and The Gardens at Market Square by Millcraft.

“We believe the new Pittsburgh Playhouse will be a game-changer for Downtown Pittsburgh,” said Paul Hennigan, president of Point Park University. “Not only will the new facility be a dynamic learning environment for students in our Conservatory of Performing Arts, it will allow their creative process to be an integral part of the Downtown experience.”

Growing Point Park’s Campus In Downtown Pittsburgh

The new Point Park University Pittsburgh Playhouse will be located on a 1.6-acre parcel on Forbes Avenue in Downtown Pittsburgh, within an officially designated redevelopment zone, as well as the Pittsburgh Center Keystone Innovation Zone.

Alongside other ongoing development efforts in this section of Downtown Pittsburgh – including PNC’s new world headquarters, and The Gardens at Market Square by Millcraft – the Playhouse will revive a dilapidated and underused corridor that connects the Grant Street business and finance hub with historic Market Square. It will serve as a gateway between Grant Street and Smithfield Street, and beyond.

The new Pittsburgh Playhouse will be a 24/7 operation with three different academic theatre spaces, a large scene shop, sound stage, prop shop, costume shop and café. It will become the heartbeat of downtown Pittsburgh. The community will be invited to watch 100 percent of production in the making, from the large windows on Forbes ography provided by Point Park University and Fourth Avenues to the large windows and stage doors inside.

The new Pittsburgh Playhouse will provide students and faculty with the academic facilities that a program of this caliber deserves. It also will contribute significantly to Point Park’s growing campus in downtown Pittsburgh.

Backstage Is Forestage

The new Playhouse is a complex, large-scale project that will encompass three structures when complete. The new building will be seamlessly interwoven with two existing historic structures – the current University Center, designed by Frederick J. Osterling for the Colonial Trust Company, and the Stock Exchange Building, designed by prominent architect Charles M. Bartberger.

Designed by Cleveland-based architecture firm Westlake Reed Leskosky, the new Playhouse will offer the public an intimate view of the making of art, as large windows offer an unobstructed view of performance venues typically shielded from observation. A hangar door will connect one theater inside the Playhouse to the outdoor courtyard, providing students the opportunity to perform for the Downtown public at large.

Corporate Gifts Launch Fundraising Effort

The University is announcing a $74 million campaign for the Playhouse project, which includes site assembly, a very generous parking arrangement and a maintenance endowment. It will cost $53 million to build and furnish the Playhouse. To date, the University has completed $45 million in funding, including $14 million from Point Park University, its trustees and campaign leadership, corporate gifts totaling $18 million, a $5 million Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) grant and $8 million in foundation gifts.

Including the sale of the Playhouse in Oakland and gifts that are pending, the University will need to raise an additional $20 million to complete the project. The $18 million in corporate gifts comes from a group of corporations and represents significant investments from The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc., the PNC Foundation and Highmark Health.

“Point Park University is helping to change our city’s Downtown and the new playhouse will be a lively addition,” said David Holmberg, president and CEO, Highmark Health. “People who live in vibrant and vital communities lead more active, healthy lives. Highmark Health is committed to supporting education at all levels, as well as preserving our national recognition as a leader in arts and culture, both of which are integral parts of our community.”

“For decades, PNC has been a leading supporter of arts and cultural organizations in communities where we do business,” said William S. Demchak, chairman, president and chief executive officer of PNC. “In recent years, as we have expanded our own Downtown Pittsburgh campus, we have been delighted to witness all that Point Park University has done to help lead the revitalization of the city’s central business district. And we are pleased today to announce both a grant from the PNC Foundation and our gift of free parking for patrons of the new theater at Point Park.”

A Reputation For Preservation

Point Park University’s Academic Village Initiative has laid out a vision developed by the community, regional stakeholders and the University for positive growth. The University has worked to reinvigorate Wood Street, the Boulevard of the Allies and the Forbes Avenue corridors with projects that support academics while also complementing the history, honoring the architecture and developing a strong economic future for the neighborhood.

A campus stroll down Wood Street offers a tour of urban architecture, stretching from the classic terra cotta details of century-old West Penn Hall at First Avenue to the historic bank building that houses the University Center between Fourth and Forbes Avenues.

“Point Park is honored to be the steward of an extraordinary collection of turn-of-the-century properties,” President Paul Hennigan said. “These buildings have been lovingly restored over the years, giving each a new place in the vibrancy of Downtown. The new Pittsburgh Playhouse will continue in the same tradition of historic preservation and creative reuse.

Point Park’s University Center, which will be a part of the completed Pittsburgh Playhouse project, already has been extensively restored and maintained as a vibrant library and facilities for the Cinema Arts program. The center is made up of four buildings, the oldest of which dates back to 1893. Also part of the Playhouse will be the historic Stock Exchange Building, which was designed in 1903 by Charles Bartberger. Part of that work will entail removing a flat ceiling, added in 1940, to expose the building’s original stained glass coffers.

While the buildings at 320, 322 and 330 Forbes Avenue. will be deconstructed to make way for the Playhouse, their most historic features – the facades – will be a significant part of the two-story, outdoor courtyard. Point Park has been working with Landmark Design Associates from the beginning, and LDA has been documenting the facades for careful dismantling and reinstallation.

Historic Façades Become Playhouse Focal Points

Preservation will be a key element to the Pittsburgh Playhouse. An urban courtyard – a two-story outdoor plaza and colonnade – will feature three Forbes Avenue façades that will be meticulously deconstructed, then reconstructed as major focal pieces.

“The University has conceived of an excellent way to preserve the most important elements and ornamentals, such as the façade of the former Royal building, by incorporating them as sculptural elements in the new Playhouse,” noted Arthur P. Ziegler, president of the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation.