StartUptown at the NEW Paramount Film Exchange

DaleBig Idea


StartUptown (SU) at The Paramount Film Exchange (PFEX) opens in July 2014 — it’s our first opportunity to create “campus.” The PFEX-SU $1.2M Redevelopment Plan — jump-started by new site owner Alexander Denmarsh, and a $250,000 Allegheny County CITF Grant awarded to StartUptown — brings up to 6+ companies and 60+ jobs to the historic Paramount site. With over 8,000 sf, this adaptive-reuse collaboration uniquely combines business innovation; arts-culture with a public film series developed by SU filmmaking resident In Medias Res; and a collaborative food delivery and food truck program open to all community and business residents. Dale McNutt, SU founder and executive director, promises a grand opening red-carpet party with popcorn and champagne in September 2014, once all SU business residents are settled in!

The Paramount site will expand StartUptown’s footprint by 6,400 sf on two floors, and will lease to mid-tier startups and others — the site also provides photographer Alexander Denmarsh with 1,800+ sf of studio and office space. Built in 1928, the property originally served as a distribution facility for Nickelodeon films. Rick Schweikert, entrepreneur and real estate agent, led an ownership group to buy the long-neglected property from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in order to save it from demolition. Instead of a direct property acquisition, Denmarsh bought the company that owned the property to avoid disrupting ongoing negotiations for leases and grants. “The value of the deal was largely at cost,” says Alexander.

WebKite, Paramount’s first resident company

Mid-tier startup WebKite has leased the entire second floor bringing 22+ employees. Looking forward to the new space to help grow the Uptown community and grow his business, CEO and founder Eric Silver helped SU through financial hurdles so we could more easily “open the doors.” He describes his company, “Only a few percent of the world’s economy is online. Without local inventory (schedules, inventory, menus) accessible via web-connected devices, this is unlikely to change. Most small businesses already keep the relevant data in spreadsheets yet those who publish do so as text. Simultaneously, the emergence of multiple search and design engines create a need for small businesses to not only publish, but to broadcast their data across their site, Facebook, and into search via open data. WebKite changes the equation by allowing anyone to publish live data automatically from any data source, to any page, platform, or API.”

The first floor is leasing quickly to companies like Imagine Careers (IC) — a hybrid software and services talent agency for professionals in technology and business — guiding top talent to discover and connect to great careers. It’s a merger of ideas jumpstarted by Mark Heckmann – CEO; Eric Harvey – President, CTO; Dr. Deb Kearney (co-founder); and Whitney Coble (co-founder) – Emerging business attorney.

The first floor experiments with a membership-plus model that provides site flexibility for the growth of WebKite over the next two years, while SUs third site becomes operational to handle company growth at both the Paramount first floor and the original 1936 Fifth Avenue site. To lease: or call 412.400.7154.


The word “nickelodeon” is a portmanteau derived from “nickel” (5¢ coin) and “odeion” (the Greek word for a roofed-over theatre). Nickelodeon theaters were popularized by John P. Harris who opened his first Nickelodeon on Smithfield Street in downtown Pittsburgh on June 19, 1905. In 1919 The Dispatch reported in an article titled “Pittsburgh Gave Birth To The Movie Theater Idea” that it was the first building in the world “devoted exclusively to the exhibition of moving picture spectacles.” The Harris Theater on Liberty Avenue is named for John P. Harris, and it is operated by Pittsburgh Filmmakers.

The celluloid films shown in early Nickelodeons were 15 minutes or less, and the content was more like what you might find on YouTube today. Some of these early films weren’t exactly G-rated. Many were bawdy, racist, and politically subversive. Some of them drew protests. To make matters worse for this young technology, celluloid film (cellulose nitrate and camphor) was highly flammable. So laws were passed requiring film exchange buildings to be fireproof and others required theater operators to view the films they rented before showing them to the public (so they themselves could be held responsible for the content). In response, film exchange companies built stocky exchange buildings with foot-thick, brick-walled vaults to store the celluloid film. When films were returned, a crew of workers restored them and films were projected in screening rooms (now a conference room with historic detail) so theater operators could watch the films before they showed them in their theaters.

All of these factors combined to create the need for film exchange buildings throughout the country that met the challenges of increasing legislative regulation and continued systematizing of film distribution.

Community Impact

StartUptown (SU) thrives at the intersection of innovation and neighborhood development, reinvigorating traditional community development models that need new approaches for our rapidly evolving new economy. Not only do we utilize startup, maker, arts and co-working cultures as our tools for community economic development, but we also seek to reinvent the community by an approach that emphasizes both people and place.

The unifying element to all our work is the belief that creative activity facilitates both personal growth and economic development. We believe that:

  • New industries, with their jobs, are the basis of our future economic well-being;
  • An entrepreneurial culture is necessary to create the innovative industries of the future;
  • Creativity is an essential component of and a spur to innovation; and
  • STEM education, plus quality arts education and exposure to artistic endeavors, and a strengthened personal creative psychology are key to building a broad entrepreneurial culture.

The Mission of StartUptown is to advance the revitalization of the Uptown neighborhood by utilizing entrepreneurial activity as a catalyst for redevelopment.

StartUptown envisions that each campus site is programmed with startups at early-, mid-, or late- stage development. This “campus” concept allows for an ecosystem whereby a later-stage startup graduates to become an anchor tenant — contributing to successful support of earlier-stage activity. And each new site will contribute to the mixed-use vitality of its Uptown neighborhood with a component that engages and attracts community residents through program access; or a street-level amenity like café, retail, or other activity — exhibiting the best qualities of inclusive urban place-making in an underserved community.

Financing and Construction

Paramount Film Exchange Inc. (PFEX) 1727 Blvd of the Allies at Miltenberger St., Pittsburgh, PA 15219

PFEX-StartUptown Redevelopment Plan

The PFEX-SU plan received support from the State of PA’s Department of Community and Economic Development, support from Senator Wayne Fontana, the Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County, and County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. We worked with former Mayor Ravenstahl; and the Urban Redevelopment Authority of the City of Pittsburgh. At the outset, Bernie Lynch of Strategic Development Solutions helped coordinate public-private partnerships. Later, Dollar Bank with Assistant Vice President Commercial Real Estate Lending & Services, Matt Bright stepped forward to help coordinate the entire construction effort with Alexander and SU.

The URA stepped up a second time to provide StartUptown low interest capital with an early interest only payment schedule to give us a last push at being successful over the first years of our lease. SU thanks all the great staff at URA who reached beyond the call of duty to support the project. A small part of that support brings 36+ Paramount posters, both historic and contemporary, originals and reproductions — framed and mounted, with museum-style texts and stories about entrepreneurs in the film industry.

We deeply thank:
Franklin Interiors: Over 1.5 years Franklin Interiors provided tireless effort to provide workplace furnishings through pro bono design and coordination, aggressive discounting with Steelcase, and offering SU a 0% interest leasing program.

Allegheny Financial Group: Allegheny stepped in at the last phase of construction to fill in funding gaps and contribute to the project’s success. Thank you.

Thoughtful Balance: Primary architects on the design and implementation of the site, they worked with Alexander Denmarsh to meet target budget goals; and with SU, provided a fixed pricing model to accomplish the interior fit out, additional design for conference and work-zones, additional detailing, and achievement of interior design goals along with Dale McNutt of SU.

Denmarsh Photography: SU thanks Alexander Denmarsh for his tireless effort to overcome financing and construction obstacles, not only supporting StartUptown, but also handing back to the community an historic asset. Over 2.5 years his exuberance and entrepreneurial energy has carried us all though the gate, thank you!

Absolute WIN and others: Russell Stelmach of WIN Construction was at the table bro bono when Rick Schweikert, Bernie Lynch of Strategic Development, and StartUptown first talked about applying for a county CITF Grant in September of 2011. Architect Jason Roth provided bro bono concept illustrations for that grant application. The Young Preservationists Association of Pittsburgh (YPA) had nominated the site to be a City of Pittsburgh Historic Landmark in April 2009 — The Historic Review Commission voted to recommend historic designation of the film exchange in September 2009. And to Uptown anchor institution UPMC-Mercy for the sale of the site to Rick — and Rick’s initial investor group for their time and money to stabilize and publicize the Paramount.

Covalent: A special thanks to Brandon Snyder and Chad Calcagno, original SU residents, for their pro bono video, StartUptown at the Paramount Film Exchange. SU will exhibit it online shorty in a fundraising campaign appealing to additional Paramount corporate sponsors and donations. These new dollars will provide additional furnishings and operating support through the next 6-8 months as we achieve sustainability. Covalent has supported the entire startup community as well as Pittsburgh’s corporate and nonprofit communities with extraordinary story telling and brand support.

Others: Ongoing community support from Uptown Partners of Pittsburgh has contributed to safety, parking issues, and supporting a community that welcomes innovation — Uptown’s recent designation as a national Eco-Innovation District has tied it more firmly to the benefits of promoting an entrepreneurial culture. Urban Innovation 21 / PCKIZ has supported programs for startup businesses including grants, paid-for internship programming, and PA tax benefits that keep young companies waiting and wanting to be “in the zone.” SU thanks Zubrow and Nearby Initiatives for SU organization capacity-building and recent grants from Neighborhood Allies, and other anonymous gifts. Dale McNutt, founder, and board members have given over 4,000 unpaid hours throughout the past 5-6 years to promote and encourage redevelopment and the building / branding of Pittsburgh’s extraordinary support for our burgeoning entrepreneurial culture.

Poster and site history, research and writing: Entrepreneur and writer, Rick Schweikert; film buff and CMU student, Miriam Kenton; PCKIZ intern and Duquesne University student, Charquinta McCray; film buff and tech blogger, Cory McNutt; final edit and pictorial reproduction and research, Dale McNutt and Pixel River / Tom Underiner. Framing discounted by Hertrich Gallery; poster and text mounting by Alpha Screen Graphics and Copies at Carson. Poster and text hanging on site by ShipArt / James Shipman.

“It isn’t over; everything has not been invented; the human adventure is just beginning.”
― Screenwriter, Producer, and Futurist: Gene Roddenberry: Star Trek: The Motion Picture, 1979, released and distributed by Paramount.