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Strip Living: Will more residents change the Strip District's historic landscape 

"The challenges are to keep the Strip District real and authentic."

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"The location is terrific," says 70-year-old Richard Nimtz, who moved into the Cork Factory three years ago.

The Cork Factory was built in part by Chuck Hammel, president of Pitt-Ohio trucking company. Hammel is currently involved in plans for two more developments: One involves 11 luxury homes in an old warehouse at 25th and Smallman that are currently under construction, and the other, a plan to repurpose one of his truck terminals along the riverfront to build a 300-unit apartment complex between 25th and 26th streets.

Hammel has also thrown his hat into the ring, as part of McCaffrey Interests, to bid on the Strip District's most high-profile development: the Pennsylvania Railroad Fruit Auction & Sales terminal building. McCaffrey is among three developers hoping to be selected by the city to develop the historic site.

"The city's decision is going to be very important to the Strip," Rodgers says. "Will it enhance what's here or detract?"

Hammel's Pitt-Ohio trucking company has been a staple of the Strip District for years, but he's in the process of relocating his terminal to Harmar as a result of changes in the Strip District — changes he helped usher in as one of the developers of the Cork Factory.

"When we moved to the Strip District back in the late '60s, the only thing that was happening in the Strip District were a bunch of old warehouses," Hammel says. "You didn't have the traffic; you didn't have the pedestrians. Frankly, it's still location-wise the best place we could be, but to me it just became too dangerous to run trucks in and out of a heavily populated area."

Along with the neighborhood's trucking terminals, another part of the Strip's identity is its nightclubs. The Strip District's reputation as a nightlife destination has increased and decreased over the years as a result of crime, but since 2000, crime in the Strip has decreased by 75 percent and nightclubs have again become a staple of the neighborhood.

Chris Firman is a partner in Static and Xtaza two nightclubs in the Strip. Over the near-decade he's been a stakeholder in the neighborhood, he says he's seen a number of improvements, and he welcomes more.

"We support all of the residential developments," Firman says. "I think it's going to positively impact the nightlife and businesses."

While Firman welcomes the new development, local DJ Aaron Clark worries he and others like him will soon have to relocate after-hours events they hold at Club Pittsburgh, a venue in the Strip District.

"We know that we'll have to go eventually because it's inevitable," Clark says. "Residents are always going to complain about noise, even if the noise was there first."

Hot Mass, the after-hours cooperative event Clark helps organize with several others, brings in noted DJs from around the globe. The event's central location makes is a draw for locals coming from areas across the city, and its proximity to nearby hotels makes it easier for organizers to find lodging for visiting artists, says Clark.

But Clark doesn't know how long the events will continue after the completion of a 59-unit development set to be located a block from Club Pittsburgh, at 1100 Smallman St. He anticipates neighbors will complain about the noise.

Rodgers didn't comment on the Hot Mass events specifically, but said daytime and nighttime businesses are going to have to make "adjustments." But if businesses don't break the law, including having "music at a certain level, they're entitled to their freedoms to operate their business. If a nighttime business is doing that, everyone can live together peacefully," Rodgers says.

Still, Clark worries about other business owners being displaced as landlords look for ways to capitalize on the impending development.

"It's a lot of people that are going to move in," Clark says. "The thing is, do all of these businesses that have been there forever own their buildings? If they're leasing space, that's where it gets tricky, because landlords only see dollar signs."

Despite Clark's concerns, several local business owners are excited to have more residents in their neighborhood. Pamela's Diner co-owner Gail Klingensmith says she and her partner chose the Strip District to expand their franchise because of its neighborhood feel and more residents will only add to it.

"Even when there were not a lot of people living there, there was a neighborhood feel," says Klingensmith. "We loved the neighborhood we loved the diversity."

In the 10 years since Klingensmith opened the Strip District location, she says the neighborhood has steadily improved. And she doesn't see the neighborhood losing its identity anytime soon.

"If I could live anywhere in the city, I would buy a unit in the Strip District, and I'm 60," Klingensmith says. "There's so much culture and diversity there and everyone is welcome. It's a multi-ethnic neighborhood. Everyone has a little bit of ownership there."

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