Shore thing: Lagoon and ice rink coming to Pittsburgh


Concept rendering of the planned Esplanade development on the North Shore. (Image courtesy of Crystal Lagoons)

By Erica Guthrie, For The Pitt News

Pittsburghers looking for a sandy beach to relax on will soon have one close to home. A 2-acre man-made lagoon is coming to the city’s North Side as part of the planned mixed-use Esplanade development planned along the Ohio River.

The crystalline lagoon, a joint effort between Pittsburgh-based real estate developers Millcraft Investments and lagoon-builders Crystal Lagoons, draws inspiration from Iceland’s Blue Lagoon. Located on a 15-acre brownfield plot in Pittsburgh’s Chateau neighborhood, developers aim on adding a recreational aspect to the new development, which will also feature retail and residencies.

We think it’s going to be a wonderful recreational element to the project,” Lucas Piatt, president and CEO of Millcraft Investments, said in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Really at the core of the project is health and wellness and recreation.”

During summer months, locals and tourists alike will be able to swim, kayak, paddleboard and relax in the 2-acre public access lagoon. During colder months, the swimming area will close and a portion of the lagoon will transform into an ice-skating rink. Thermal baths will be open year-round.

“Esplanade’s lagoon will be situated in the coldest weather climate of any Crystal Lagoons amenity worldwide to date,” Millcraft and Crystal Lagoons said in a joint press release. “Crystal Lagoons has seen a growing demand for development of ice skating-capable concepts in colder-climate cities, since the company’s crystalline lagoons can naturally freeze or can freeze with the addition of supplemental technology.”

Developers have not yet released a date for the public opening, but once they break ground on the lagoon, Crystal Lagoons expects to complete construction in less than a year. Christopher Souza, Crystal Lagoons’ regional director, said the lagoon will be the first urban lagoon in the country when it opens.

“For us, this is our first lagoon that is not only open to the entire public, but it’s in a city like Pittsburgh,” Souza said. “From the day Millcraft begins to build the lagoon, it should take no more than eight months. Actually, it could be a bit quicker because of the size.”

Piatt told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he is envisioning a floating screen for movies in the middle of the lagoon, and possibly even a stage for performances.

Although prices for entry have not been determined yet, Millcraft community and public relations manager Chelsea Peluso said that a variety of options will be offered for those who want to enjoy the lagoon.

“We will be offering day passes, memberships, different packages, community days,” Peluso said, “Making sure this is completely accessible to the community, to the area and to visitors of Pittsburgh.”

But many residents are concerned the development will raise the cost of rent in the area, forcing long-term residents out.

“I feel like most of the people who would come there are from the suburbs,” Hunter Steele, a resident of Spring Hill and junior nursing student at Chatham University, said. “We need affordable housing, as compared to these really expensive houses being put in and people being forced out of their homes.”

The lagoon is expected to bring an element of sustainability to Esplanade. Unique features, such as Crystal Lagoons’ evaporation control film technology, will enable the lagoon to consume up to 50 percent less water than a 2-acre park.

“We’re not like a normal pool filtration,” Souza said. “We use 1 percent of the additives you would for a normal pool and 2 percent of the electricity you would for a normal pool of the same size.”

Millcraft Investments, which is responsible for developing multiple properties in downtown Pittsburgh, is working in alliance with the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh to help create the mixed-use development. The URA functions to help create economic development in the City by assisting developers in creating plans for their new communities.

Mixed use developments are a common style of urban planning, as they are both pedestrian-friendly and incorporate different uses of property into one development. Esplanade plans to feature recreation, retail, office and residential spaces on the 180,000-square-foot plot.

Developers are also considering a small grocery store, drugstore, restaurants, distilleries and breweries as part of the retail establishment. A marina will be put in on the waterfront, and office spaces will be available on land. A small museum is also in talks to spotlight different “Pittsburgh firsts.”

The development, situated on the former J. Allan Steel site, is also set to bring a climate-controlled ferris wheel to Pittsburgh. Peluso said that the ferris wheel was a way to make a tribute to the famous Pittsburgh native who created the ride.

“We are paying homage to George Ferris, who actually resided in and passed away in the North Side,” Peluso said.