Hear me out: Whole Foods Downtown / by EpicDevelopments

So it seems like the secret is out about Downtown.  The stories of success have gone from once every six months to once a week.  Restaurant openings, under utilized buildings converted to apartment building, new office space (like two new skyscrapers!), etc.  The signs of growing success can be seen all over. My list of 'requests' for Downtown has gone from 'one decent place to go to eat that's not a chain' to 'I'd love to see a mod Asian restaurant open soon.'  And the efforts are far from complete.  There is much left that needs to be address to continue Downtown's growth but even still, it's amazing to see how far its come in just a few short years (and during an economic downturn).
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PPG Food Court, Ringed ontop with under-utilized street facing retail
This brings me to a suggestion that I know will have people telling me I'm crazy, but hear me out. On a recent stroll my boyfriend and I popped into PPG Plaza's food court and interior retail space (see his post on the future of the space).  It felt like my high school cafeteria.  Giant atrium, food stands I'd avoid unless forced, and empty.  We chatted as to what could fit in the place that would activate the space and really serve as an asset downtown and one name kept popping up over and over, Whole Foods.

Now a little back story on PPG Building before I getting into the Whole Foods debate. When the building was owned by PPG, they didn't necessarily jump on board with the whole Market Square renovation. As a result, their corner of the Square is still quiet and largely the same as prior to the renovation. The rest of the Square however has seen incredible investment and activity. Just try finding a seat in the Starbucks there whereas the Crazy Mocha across the Square in PPG is a ghost town. The building however was recently sold to a NC REIT, Highwoods Properties, who is confirmed to be someone that sees value in Downtown's vibrancy and wants to be a part of it.

Below grade Whole Foods at Time Warner Center, NYC
So why Whole Foods?  What makes them a good fit to replace this aging food court and underutilized retail space skirting Market Square?  Well I think there are several.  First and most obvious, is there is no grocery option Downtown for the growing residential population.  No by no way am I suggesting that the approximate 7,500 people that live in Downtown would be able to solely support a store like this.  But having any option Downtown rather than being forced to go to Shadyside, South Side, or the Strip would make the store a amazing amenity to the largely affluent apartments and condos Downtown.  There are also thousands that call the South Side, Mexican War Streets/North Side, and Strip District residents that already are making the trek to the Shadyside location that would absolutely support a store closer.

Second, is the workforce.  While the core resident figures are small, the influx of workers on a day to day basis most certainly is not.  PDP has the figure pegged at over 120,000.  And while few of these would be substantial shoppers here (though some absolutely would), giving them an option to pick up dinner before jumping on the T or a yummy lunch in their cafe would most definitely be patronized.

  

My final point is that Whole Foods is out of the box.  While they increasingly are opening suburban locations, they still were a pioneer in opening up full fledged groceries in the city.  They will happily open in a location with no dedicated parking (unlike Trader Joes) and see value in dense city markets (NY, DC, Philadelphia, Austin, Baltimore, etc).  Why can't Pittsburgh join this list?  The other factor is that Whole Foods is very comfortable with being a market setter; case point East Liberty.  And you can't discount the benefits of being the only full scale grocer of that calliber for a four mile radius.

Now there are certainly potential hold-ups in the plan.  They already have a store in development in the South Hills so can the PGH market really support four stores?  Possibly?  There is also the factor of space.  Even in their city model stores, they still like to be BIG.  Is there enough room on the retail and food court space to swing something this large?  Can you build a model around just commuters?   These are still all big unknowns.  But what is certainly known, is that if this or a similar iteration came to fruition to the Downtown market, it would be a GAME CHANGER.  So hey Whole Foods...give me a call and let's talk!