New Downtown Apartment Building Features Music Rehearsal Rooms, Duckpin Bowling and Maker’s space

July 28, 2020 | by Mark Belko, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette |

It might be the envy of garage bands everywhere.

At the Terminal 21 apartment complex Downtown, “The Chambers” beckons Nirvana rock star wannabes.

The second-floor space features six soundproof music rehearsal rooms — five small ones for individuals or couples, and a large one for a full band. Rather than dealing with musty smells, oil spots on the floor, work benches and lawn mowers, aspiring musicians can crank it up in a carpeted environment with white walls and plenty of outlets for those amplifiers and electric guitars.

And the best part about it is they won’t disturb the neighbors.

“There are apartments all around these things and we don’t get complaints,” said Clarence Mendiola, director of residential services for the complex.

The Chambers is just one of a slew of amenities The Davis Companies, the Boston-based owner of Terminal 21, is offering in a bid to separate the former Art Institute of Pittsburgh dormitory at 615 First Ave. from its rivals Downtown and elsewhere.

In a spacious speakeasy-style bar and lounge, tenants can roll for strikes on two lanes of duckpin bowling. About the only thing missing are the shoe rentals.

On the other side of the room, they can test their skills at Skee-Ball, a “Jurassic Park”-themed pinball machine or a vintage “Pac-Man” arcade game.

There’s also a full-sized bar to belly up to, pool and ping-pong tables, and plenty of tables, chairs and couches.

Should the desire to create — crafts, not music — grab tenants, there’s the “Refractory” — a maker’s room for painting or completing home projects in a workshop-like setting. While the space is filled mainly with work tables and a bucket of paint brushes right now, Mr. Mendiola hopes to add tool sets for residents to use in the future as occupancy increases.

Although there is a similar “maker’s room” in an apartment complex Mr. Mendiola manages in Lawrenceville, he said they are not common amenities. “It’s a really, really good amenity space that a lot of developers don’t even think of,” he said.

Other amenities include a fitness center open around the clock, a catering kitchen for large group dinners and events, and conference rooms and co-working spaces spread over a three-story atrium lobby.

The Davis Companies, which owns the historic Union Trust Building on Grant Street a few blocks from Terminal 21, is hoping the amenities will help sell people on the new apartment complex, which is now fully completed.

“I think these amenity spaces, they speak for the building,” Mr. Mendiola said. “They’re very, very in tune with the younger crowd.”

Since the doors of Terminal 21 first opened in February, about 52% of the 205 loft-style apartments — a mix of studio and one and two-bedroom units — have been leased.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced The Davis Companies and its property manager, Milhaus Management, to try to do leasing through virtual tours.

As the region opened up, they have been able to do more in-person visits, and Mr. Mendiola, who works for Milhaus, said leasing has picked up over the last month.

Original demographic targets for the apartments included Downtown workers and young professionals. But so far, renters have proven to be more diverse, populating the apartments with graduate students, health care workers and tech employees.

The Davis Companies purchased the debt on Shannon Hall, the name of the old Art Institute dorm, in 2018 after the former owner, Try Street Associates LP, faced a possible foreclosure.

Try Street was left without a tenant after the Art Institute decided not to renew its master lease for the space.

The nine-story structure originally served as a railroad and manufacturing building in the early 1920s, situated near multiple rail lines.

In keeping with the industrial feel, apartments have concrete floors in the living and kitchen areas, high ceilings with exposed ductwork and oversized windows.

Overall, The Davis Companies spent just over $40 million renovating the building.

So far, the most popular amenity in the speakeasy space has been duckpin bowling. “People kind of gravitate over here because you can’t find anything like this in an apartment community,” Mr. Mendiola said.

Because of COVID-19, Terminal 21 has set up a reservation system for the bowling so that the lanes and balls can be sanitized after each use. Hours currently are limited to morning and afternoon for the same reason.

There also are limits on the number of people who can be in the overall speakeasy space because of the pandemic.

Nonetheless, Mr. Mendiola has found that people are spending as much time in the building’s amenity spaces as they do in their apartments, in part because of COVID-19.

As for the music rehearsal rooms, one tenant has used one to practice her bagpipes, perhaps to the relief of her neighbors. A couple has used another to sing, play guitar and record their music.

No bands have shown up to play in the larger room yet. Should it go unused, Mr. Mendiola has a possible backup plan.

“I was thinking we could just set up a big TV and do a nice karaoke system in here,” he said.

For that, they might want to double check the soundproofing.

Mark Belko: or 412-263-1262.