Four historic yet formerly vacant Pittsburg buildings are bustling with life once again. A project made possible through the partnership of Pittsburg State University, the City of Pittsburg, and the Vecino Group, Block22 is nearing completion, and students have already moved in.
“This weekend the first residents of Block22 moved into their apartments,” director of strategic communications Brett Dalton said. “It was a tremendous day, a tremendous experience. Seeing those old buildings officially come to life. Very, very exciting moment for the university and for the city, and for the whole community.”
Construction for Block22 began last year, and the whole town is excited for its completion.
“… We had volunteers from throughout the community. There were numerous PSU volunteers, city volunteers, wide variety of people who just wanted to come help and be a part of it. … It was very inspiring to see so many people come together and be part of what was truly a historic moment for Pittsburg,” Dalton said.
The official move-in day for the Block22 residential spaces was Saturday, Aug. 18, and while the rooms are ready to move into, there are still finishing touches to be made.
“As we’ve said previously, there are still some things to finish up on the residential side,” Dalton said. “There’s some touch ups here and there in the apartments. Then, there’s some work to do in the corridors and hallways. But we’re very, very pleased and excited by how they look. The response from students was fantastic. … The main goal for Block22 right now is to finish the residential side which, within a week or week and a half, it should be all done.”
Nichole Kelly, senior in vocal performance, is a new resident of Block22. She said that while she is excited to begin living in the new apartment, she currently does not have a closet and is missing a few chairs. Additionally, when she moved in her bed had not yet been set up.
“I’m pretty laid back about it all because I know huge projects like this take time,” Kelly said. “I was worried that we would have to stay in a hotel or something because they wouldn’t get it finished on time, so I was more than happy to be able to move in this past weekend. Plus, I’m grateful I didn’t have to carry any large appliances up the stairs!”
Other aspects of the residential area that need additional work include minor paint issues and dishwashers still needing to be anchored.
“The Opera House Hotel, which is the blue building on the east side, that building in particular is very old and was in bad shape,” Dalton said. “It was in the worst shape of the four that they started working on. The truth is that that building took a bit longer to finish. We had crews there until 3 a.m. the morning of moving day. What happened was that we looked at the rooms and said, ‘these aren’t done.’ They’re probably 90 percent complete. The appliances were in and everything was in to make them livable and safe, but we’re talking about paint, some areas where paint needed to be touched up.”
Members of the Block22 team walked through the Opera House Hotel apartments with each student to let them know of the situation and offer them a temporary alternative for their stay.
“Basically what they hadn’t been able to do yet was go in and really clean,” Dalton said. “They were clean, but where typically we wouldn’t ask students to move into an apartment that still had paint splashes on the floor or still had details to be finished. There were little things like that where we honestly just ran out of time. The offer was, to the students in that building, ‘you can move in knowing that you’re going to have some crews that still have to get into your room to finish. You can do that or we can put you up at Crimson Commons here on main campus until it’s all done which is about a week and a half.’ Regardless of whether they chose to stay at Block22 or stay elsewhere until it was done, they are not paying rent for the time between move in day and whenever those apartments are deemed complete.”
One student chose the option to stay in Crimson Commons until the apartments are finished.
Once the residential areas are complete, phase two will focus on the lower level of the two buildings on the east side of Broadway, also known as the Foundry. The Foundry will consist of a wide variety of small businesses that will soon be announced. This area will also hold the eight to nine Pitt State employees who will be working in the building as a part of the University Strategic Initiatives team. Root Coffeehouse and Creperie are also on the list of projects to complete next, the whole of which the team hopes to complete by the end of September. Phase three is the restaurants.
“That has been one of the longest processes because there is so much that goes into building restaurants,” Dalton said. “So this is a new challenge for us. We’ve been working with the restaurant owners to figure out what they need, what sort of equipment. They’re working with their people, their suppliers, to figure out what sort of equipment they need. … We’re working hard to get it done this fall, but we know, no matter when it happens, those three restaurants combined with Root on the other side are going to create an incredible dining experience right there at fourth and Broadway. Hopefully that will be good for the whole community as well as the students in Block22.”
Kelly as well as other residents of Block22 and members of the university are excited to see the project come to an end. Dalton and the rest of his team are thankful for the support they have received recently and since the project first began.
“We just really appreciate everyone’s help and support on the project,” Dalton said. “It’s been a long time coming and it’s been a dream. It was really kind of a crazy idea that came up a few years ago. It’s been incredibly exciting to see how an idea to transform these four buildings, to transform downtown, to provide this experience for the students. It’s so cool to see it work. Walking through those buildings on Saturday and just remembering what it looked like when it started, you feel this geyser of pride inside of you. It’s an incredible feeling and it’s encouraging. It makes you come back to work on Monday feeling like we truly are making a difference. That’s pretty incredible. On the other side of that, we know that we’re not done. We just ask everyone to be as patient as possible while we finish this.”