The Highline is Pittsburgh’s new elevated riverfront green space on the South Side

By August 18, 2020 August 20th, 2020 Blog

As 2020 marches on, throwing curveballs left and right, Pittsburghers continue to turn to their city’s riverfronts to escape the COVID-19 pandemic and enjoy some socially-distant exercise and fresh air.

Rewarding that sense of riverfront wanderlust, a new park has opened right next to—and above—the Mon River. And it’s waiting to be discovered.

In the middle of the whirlwind of this summer, McKnight Realty Partners quietly opened The Highline’s outdoor public open spaces on the South Side riverfront. Riverlife has met with the project partners over the past several years to learn more about the development. Now that the project is in the final stages of completion, we met Izzy Rudolph, McKnight’s President of Development and Acquisitions, on site to check out the riverfront improvements in person.

The Highline is home to over 600,000 square feet of creative office and retail spaced throughout a cluster of massive late 19th-century brick buildings overlooking over the Monongahela River. What really stands out when arriving at the site, though, is the green spine that connects the buildings.

The 500-foot elevated public open space used to be a dead-end street with tight surface parking and little appeal for pedestrians. With an interior garage opening as part of the project, McKnight decided to banish the cars from the elevated roadway. Now that space features rows of industrial-chic planter beds of Western Pennsylvania native plants and flowers, new lighting, and seating that accommodates gazing at the sweeping views of the Downtown skyline and Liberty Bridge. The design elements nod to the property’s namesake, New York City’s famous built-on-a-railway High Line Park, and the train tracks that run below the walkway remind you of the working history of this Pittsburgh site.

Lower plaza of The Highline with trees, benches and umbrellas. A red rail car sits on the paving.

Down below on the river level, connected by an outdoor elevator and staircase, a second public plaza features over an acre of public green space connected to the Three Rivers Heritage Trail. Eye-catching elements include a period rail car, solar-power-absorbing umbrellas, murals depicting the history of the building’s rail loading bays by artist Jeremy Raymer (in progress), and a brewery and bike rental shop (both opening soon). While the trail jogs away from the riverfront at 4th Street to continue around the The Highline because of railroad restrictions, a new protected bike lane helps make the transition to city streets smoother.

McKnight Realty Partners began work converting the massive terminal into The Highline complex in 2016 with architectural and landscape design by Indovina Associates Architects. The project partners met with Riverlife’s Design Review Committee several times over the years to introduce the project and give updates on its progression. We appreciate their collaborative spirit and receptiveness to Riverlife’s feedback about design, riverfront access, and amenities like public restrooms on the property for riverfront trail users.

The Highline creates new public open space on a section of South Side riverfront that most Pittsburghers don’t associate with green space or riverfront parks. That element of surprise is what McKnight was hoping for.

“People like to discover things, so we tried to, as best we could, make this a good experience for people seeing it for the first time,” said Izzy Rudolph. “A lot of people are seeing The Highline off the bike trail, and everyone has that same sense of wow, I never knew this was here. There is really not a whole lot of cool accessible spaces on the riverfront, and we wanted to do that in a way that was authentic to the property and authentic to the environment.”

The Highline can be accessed from the Three Rivers Heritage Trail, car, and public transportation. Find directions here.

Images by Stephan Bontrager / Riverlife.

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Riverlife works every day with developers, land owners, and neighborhood groups on issues of riverfront design, access, amenities and programming in Pittsburgh and the region. Find out how our Design Review Committee can help with your riverfront project.