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Category Archive: Real Estate Development

  1. Historic Swissvale Church Receives Second Life as Condominium Development

    John Farley, Pop City Media

    Wednesday, January 26, 2011

    Madonna del Castello Church, 7416 Duquesne Avenue, Swissvale.

    The Madonna del Castello Church at 7416 Duquesne Avenue in Swissvale has sat vacant for five years since its congregation left, leaving the unique brick building to fall into considerable disrepair. The church will experience new life as (a) condominium complex thanks to a partnership between the community, The Mon Valley Initiative, and the Swissvale Economic Development Corporation, who have begun construction that will incorporate many of the church’s original architectural features into the redesign.

    “Its reuse as a church wasn’t going to be feasible so we looked at other options to maintain this part of the neighborhood,” says Patrick Shattuck, senior real estate developer for The Mon Valley Initiative, who purchased the property last September for $10,000.

    Working with plans by Lami Grubb Architects, Mistick Construction is currently installing structural steel supports and expects the project to be completed by late spring or early summer. The plaster moldings and original arches will stay, becoming part of the new townhouse-style condos.

    Three of the four condos will be 1,600-square-foot, two-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bathroom units. The fourth condo will be a 2,400-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bathroom unit, which will feature the large dome that is currently over the altar as part of the space. The condos will range in price between $80,000 to $105,000.

    A former rectory and convent next door to the church had to be demolished but the vacant lot where they once stood will soon be put to good use. “We had hoped to renovate the buildings, but ultimately they proved to be too far gone. It is a buildable lot, so whether we include that in the future phase for a house or whether we leave it for public green space will be determined,” says Shattuck.

    Writer: John Farley
    Source: Patrick Shattuck, The Mon Valley Initiative

    Image courtesy of The Mon Valley Initiative

  2. ‘Location’ is Only Part of Marketing Downtown Homes

    Sunday, January 9, 2011

    The condos at Gateway Towers, Downtown, offers postcard-like views of PNC Park, Point State Park and the headwaters of the Ohio River. Joe Appel | Tribune-Review

    Cindy Clifton stands at the corner of a condo in Gateway Towers overlooking postcard-like views of PNC Park, Point State Park and the headwaters of the Ohio River.

    What sells this $1 million condo, like others that can be about $200,000 in the Downtown high-rise, is what has become a mantra of real estate sales, the building manager explains: “Location, location, location.”

    But at the same time, she adds, the management of the building also recently spent about $80,000 to bring the lobby, hallways and other public spaces out of the 1950s. It is an attempt to make the building “hipper” and to compete with some other, newer residences.

    The need to make a lobby more attractive, to have it “say” something, points to a twist in the marketing of Downtown’s places to live. The vertical lifestyle Downtown creates a different market than the lawns and properties of the suburbs. For many, that upkeep is the reason for leaving the suburbs.

    Liz Caplan, real estate broker for Remax, says there is one requirement that is shared in all Downtown homes.

    “People want a worry-free lifestyle,” she says. “They don’t want to worry about the garden or cutting grass. They want to be able to take off for a couple weeks in Florida without thinking about anything.”

    Debbie Roberts, general manager of the Cork Factory apartments in the Strip District, says urban living is “not for everyone” and those who accept it also are lured by the features their building offers.

    Frank Berceli, from the firm that handles leasing for the Heinz Lofts on the North Side, says those amenities are even more important than higher or lower rents or mortgages.

    “If your dealing with a person who can afford $1,300 for rent, $50 more or less won’t matter,” he says. “But a good workout room will.”

    Roberts says the Cork Factory thrives on amenities such as the picnic area, a marina and the building’s historic architecture

    But, she adds, its closeness to Downtown also makes it attractive even if it is not right in the business district.

    The newly remodeled lobby at Gateway Towers, Downtown. Joe Appel | Tribune-Review

    Similar comments are made at many Downtown residences, pointing to sales pitches that are far different from those for single-family homes.

    Those pitches also point to how these buildings would seem to present different lifestyles, even if they seem similar.

    It is all in what is offered

    Both David Bishoff and Frank Berceli are big on privacy — but even that can take on a different nature.

    Bishoff is president E.V. Bishoff Co., the Columbus, Ohio, firm that developed the Carlyle condos at Fourth Avenue and Wood Street. Berceli is general manager of Amore Management of Monroeville, which leases homes at the Heinz Lofts.

    They both say they market their residences as offering a form of “privacy,” but Bishoff brags about how his “privacy” is amid bustle. Berceli’s, meanwhile, is in a suburb in the city.

    Bishoff says one of the strongest aspects of the Carlyle is the 14 to 18 inches of concrete above and below condos and the walls that are lined with sound-deadening material. That makes the silence in the condos similar to that which residents experienced in their suburban homes before they moved Downtown.

    “We don’t want to listen to our neighbor’s stereo,” he says of life in the condos, many of which cost about $300,000. “We did that in college, but we don’t want to do it now.”

    Still, though, he adds, the Carlyle is in the middle of town, blocks from restaurants, shows, shops and health clubs. That gives it a location in the middle of activity that has lured many of its residents.

    Berceli, on the other hand, says his clients tend to want to get away from urban life, but remain close enough to dip into it at a whim.

    For that same reason, Berceli continues, the Heinz Lofts provide a better workout facility: it allows residents to stay at home instead of going to a commercial gym, no matter how close.

    By living on the other side of the Allegheny River, the noise of traffic and business activity is gone. But the Downtown life is minutes away when it is wanted.

    He says Heinz Lofts tenants are lured by that quiet as well as such features as the bicycle-hiking trail in front of it.

    The ‘product’ is everything

    William Gatti, president of Trek Development, which owns the Century Building on Seventh Avenue, Downtown, says the total “product” is the most important element in the marketing of a Downtown home.

    Apartments there range from $600 a month rent-control units up to $1,500, and are being taken mostly by people who work Downtown or, in some cases, are retired but active as docents or other volunteer jobs.

    “It puts people on the street,” he says. “They are out there going to work or going to restaurants. It is part of the whole urban lifestyle.”

    He knows of some people who use Downtown residences as a part-time city home and suggests that strategy does not create a lively Downtown.

    Brett Malky, a partner in 151 First Side, the upper-end condos on Fort Pitt Boulevard, says ultimately the “success” of all the Downtown residences is one of the best ways of marketing Downtown living.

    “It is a lifestyle choice, but the fact that there are places appealing to young workers or empty nesters makes it possible to market Downtown living,” he says.

    As he spoke, he was closing in on agreements that would leave only nine units available in the 82-place site that opened in 2007.

    For condos that can top $1 million, that bespeaks the success he sees.

    “With the small number left, it shows the fear of living Downtown is over,” he says.

  3. Friendship May Get Aldi Grocery

    Tuesday, January 11, 2011
    By Mark Belko, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    Discount grocer Aldi appears to be headed to the East End as part of the redevelopment of a former car dealership.

    Michigan-based Warner Pacific Properties is expected to brief the city planning commission today about its plans to convert the Day Automotive dealership into a grocery, offices and other retail uses.

    The grocer in question is believed to be Aldi, although Leslie Peters, an attorney for Warner Pacific, said the developer did not yet have an agreement with any particular store.

    Asked if Warner Pacific were talking to Aldi, Ms. Peters replied, “I think you can infer that.” City Councilman William Peduto, who represents the area, said Warner Pacific had stated that Aldi would be the grocer.

    The developer is proposing an 18,000-square-foot grocery at the site at Baum Boulevard and Roup Street in Friendship. It is also planning 44,000 square feet of office space and 3,000 square feet of retail space.

    Ms. Peters said Warner Pacific planned to keep the exterior intact.

    The building, with a corner tower that once displayed pulsating light after dark, has some historic value. Built in the early 1930s as a Chrysler sales and service building, it remained as an auto dealership until it was closed in 2009 by the Day Automotive Group.

    “We’ll be reusing the existing building,” Ms. Peters said. “We believe it’s a significant structure, at least for Pittsburghers. Everybody knows the building.”

    She added that the developer did plan some interior renovations to upgrade the space. The total project cost is estimated at $4 million.

    Because the property is a former auto dealership, Mr. Peduto said there are ramps within it that will allow for parking on the upper floors. The grocery will be on the first floor. He said an adjacent structure would be converted for office use.

    Mr. Peduto said the project has the support of the Baum-Centre Initiative group. Through a community process, the developer is also addressing concerns about traffic patterns and other issues, he said.

    After a planning commission briefing today, Warner Pacific is expected to appear before the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment Thursday to request a special exception that would allow the property to be used for a grocery and office space.

    Ms. Peters said the developer hoped to get all permits needed for the project by February or March and then start construction.

  4. Steelpan City

    Pittsburgh City Paper

    For the Week of 01.05.2011 / 01.12.2011


    Jonnet Solomon-Nowlin - Steelpan Drum Instructor, owner of The National Opera House in Lincoln-Lemington - Brian Kaldorf

    A local woman is hoping that the sounds of steelpan drums can revitalize one of the city’s most historic homes and the lives of young people.

    The National Opera House, located on the border of Homewood and Lincoln-Lemington — and once the home of the National Negro Opera Company — has sat vacant for years. But now Jonnet Solomon-Nowlin, the building’s owner, believes her family’s U.S. Steelpan Academy can add value and structure to young lives, while bringing attention to the neighborhood’s often-overlooked past.

    Steelpan drums were invented in the Caribbean — in countries like Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago — during the 1930s. Steelpans were originally crafted from discarded 55-gallon oil drums.  To achieve their signature pitched sound, two rubber-tipped mallets strike the surface of the pan, where notes have been marked onto the stretched steel surface.

    Starting at the age of 14, Solomon-Nowlin’s father, Phil Solomon, founded several steelbands in Guyana; he was named Musician of the Year in 1971. After moving to Pittsburgh in 1984, he founded Solomon Steelpan Company and began manufacturing steel drums for organizations throughout the country. Solomon was the first manufacturer of steelpans in Pittsburgh.

    After dedicating years to this instrument, Solomon wants the next generation to take over.

    “The whole idea of the academy,” he says, “is to launch the steelpan into the 21st century, for me to pass this knowledge on to younger people.”

    Solomon-Nowlin hopes not only to pass on that knowledge, but to teach young people a skill that can add value to their community.

    “I would like to see steelpan and the arts and music help young people,” Solomon-Nowlin says, “by giving them an opportunity to express themselves through art.”

    While she’s working to restore the Opera House, for the past several years Solomon-Nowlin has been able to teach lessons through community partnerships. And when she begins a new series of classes at the East End’s Union Project this month, it will be a step closer to running the academy within the National Opera House.

    The Union Project lessons are important, she says, “and the first set of students will be a marketing piece for the house.”

    Using the house as the home base for the Steelpan Academy makes sense. After all, the building has always had a role in the emerging African-American art scene, especially during the previous century.

    The three-story Victorian home sits on a terrace overlooking Homewood. Built in the Queen Anne style in 1894, it was home to many prominent black Pittsburghers over the years, including Roberto Clemente, Lena Horne and Woogie Harris, brother of famed photographer Charles “Teenie” Harris.

    But its most significant tenant was Mary Cardwell Dawson’s National Negro Opera Company. Launched in 1941, the NNOC was the first African-American opera company in the country.  The NNOC held productions for 21 years and traveled to Washington, D.C., New York City and Chicago.

    Solomon-Nowlin says she learned about this history through the advocacy efforts of the Young Preservationists Association of Pittsburgh (YPA) and the group’s executive director, Dan Holland.

    The YPA is a preservation group that encourages young people to be involved in researching, documenting and eventually restoring historic places. Once a year, the organization releases a Top Ten list of the best opportunities for preservation in the region. In 2003, the Opera House was on that list.

    “Their Top Ten list and the education around it, and why it’s important to preserve,” Solomon-Nowlin says, “is one of the key things that brought awareness to the project.  They were able to reach a lot of people.”

    And that’s what Solomon-Nowlin is hoping to do with Steelpan.

    The Young Men and Women’s African Heritage Association, headquartered on Pittsburgh’s North Side, has been teaching steelpan for 15 years, and the Solomon family has been involved since the beginning. Lessons were first taught by Phil Solomon and later his daughters, Janera and then Jonnet. Jonnet gives lessons on Saturdays at the New Hazlett Theatre.

    Janice Parks, executive director of the heritage association, says the steelpan is a good fit for her students.

    “It’s an easily accessible instrument,” Parks says. “You don’t have to have years and years of experience to be great. [Students] can pick up two mallets and an hour later they can play the melody line of a tune that’s familiar to them.”

    Adam Warble, an instructor at the academy, agrees, and says “it’s definitely a popular instrument — it’s fun.” Warble says that his young students get particularly excited when he mentions current hip-hop songs that feature steelpan. But Phil Solomon stresses the versatility of the instrument. “Steelpan was actually created to play classical music,” he says.

    Parks says her students learn to play everything from “Bach and Beethoven to Stevie Wonder.”

    When the academy begins teaching at the Opera House, Warble thinks it will be “absolutely wonderful. Especially since the steelpan was invented in the Caribbean” — where the culture is heavily influenced by the African diaspora. “[And] since [the home] was a hub of African-American cultures, I think it’s wonderful to bring that back to the Opera House.”

    The next step is bringing back the house itself. Solomon-Nowlin has recently hired grant-writers to find funding for the home’s restoration. Architects, electricians and carpenters have all agreed to work with her, and some have already donated time to the project.

    Now, she just needs to raise enough money to begin the restoration, and to begin turning the Opera House back into a home for music. But she’s quick to point out that because her forte is music, she can use all the help she can get on the restoration side of this dream.

    “I’m not in the preservation business,” she says with a laugh, “I’m just in it by default. My key thing is to just make sure it’s preserved. We really have to push forward.”

  5. South Side Site Gets Development Go-Ahead

    Retail, apartments slated for former Goodwill headquarters
    Friday, December 24, 2010
    By Mark Belko, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    A $28 million project to convert the former Goodwill headquarters on the South Side into apartments and retail space is good to go, thanks in part to a $5 million state redevelopment assistance grant.

    The grant, awarded by Gov. Ed Rendell last week, will help close a gap in the financing and enable the project to move forward, city Urban Redevelopment Authority board members were told Thursday when they authorized the receipt of the money.

    Green Tree developer Burns & Scalo Real Estate plans to convert the seven-story building on East Carson Street into 87 market rate apartments and 10,000 square feet of ground level retail space.

    James Scalo, Burns & Scalo president, said he expects the apartments to rent for about $1,500 a month.

    He said the state money will be used to help build a parking garage within the complex, an amenity he believes will be a big selling point. He said it would be the only residential project on the South Side with secure parking within the building.

    With the money committed, Mr. Scalo said he hopes to start demolition work inside the building next month. Construction work is expected to start in April, with an opening slated for spring 2012.

    Burns & Scalo will clean and preserve the facade and also seek to have the Renaissance Revival building listed on the National Register of Historic Places, in part to make the project eligible for historic tax credits, Mr. Scalo said.

    Burns & Scalo came under some fire last summer when it received permission from the city Historic Review Commission to demolish an adjacent Goodwill building to make way for an Aldi supermarket.

    Mr. Scalo said there’s a reason the developer is seeking to preserve the Goodwill headquarters while it demolished the other structure.

    “This building has a lot of historic value. The other one did not,” he said. The structure used to be the mercantile store for the J&L Steel plant on the South Side.

    Also Thursday, the URA board approved a deal that allows Cleveland-based Forest City Enterprises to make a $9 million lump sum payment to the URA to close out a $20.8 million loan dating back to 1984.

    The loan was used to build Liberty Center, the 27-story skyscraper that houses the Westin Convention Center hotel and Federated Investors. Since the loan’s inception, Forest City had made about $9.5 million in payments. The developer, about three weeks ago, approached the URA about discontinuing $400,000 in yearly payments in exchange for one final lump sum amount.

    In agreeing to the deal, the URA will be accepting about $2 million less than the original loan, not including interest. However, Rob Stephany, URA executive director, said there was a chance that future yearly payments, which were tied to cash flow, could decrease, depending on the tower’s occupancy and lease arrangements. He said Forest City originally offered $3.5 million as a lump sum payment.

    A consultant hired by the URA also analyzed the deal and concluded that a $9 million buyout was a “very fair number.”

    Mr. Stephany said the URA plans to reinvest the $9 million in city neighborhoods that are eligible for federal community development block grants.

    “It’s a great opportunity for us,” he said

  6. $289,500 in Funding Will Help WCDC Continue to Revitalize Wilkinsburg

    Wednesday, January 05, 2011

    Pop City Media

    On December 28, the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation received its second annual installment of funding from Tristate Capital Bank, totaling $289,500.  The funding is part of a six year, $1.8 million commitment by the bank in order to assist the WCDC’s Business District Revitalization efforts.

    “The money is split 50/50,” says Tracy Evans, executive director of the WCDC.  “Half goes to our office, staff, and projects, primarily infrastructure improvement projects we’re working on as well as marketing money for the overall borough.”  The other half of that money is allocated for projects that the WCDC is collaborating with Landmarks Community Capital Corporation, a division of the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, to achieve.

    The first installment of the Tristate Capital funds were used by the WCDC and LCCC to open Wilkinsburg’s Landmarks Community Resource Center last October, and this year’s funds will contribute to two new Wilkinsburg housing projects totaling $10 million.

    “This funding stream has been key to the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation opening an office in the borough in 2010 and hiring three full-time personnel to further our goals in revitalizing the Wilkinsburg business community,” says John A. Thompson, WCDC president and mayor of Wilkinsburg.

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    Writer: John Farley
    Source: Tracy Evans, WCDC
    John A. Thompson, WCDC

  7. Report Cites Downtown Dynamics

    Tuesday, January 04, 2011
    By Sally Kalson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    Downtown Pittsburgh is a more diverse and dynamic place than it was just seven years ago — more residents, more students and workers, more people riding bikes and running.

    That’s the conclusion of Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership President Michael Edwards, based on the group’s new report about living, working and commuting Downtown.

    Among the findings:

    • The peak age of Downtown residents is 25 to 29.

    • One-third of Downtown residents have incomes of more than $100,000.

    • Of the 126,000 people working Downtown, two-thirds are in the service or finance industries.

    • The proportion of students jumped from 4 percent to 13 percent since 2003.

    • The use of public transit also jumped, from 48 percent to 53 percent in the same period.

    • The average commute to Downtown is 13 miles, or about 38 minutes.

    The report comes from four different surveys conducted in 2010. For the most part, the studies are looking at the “greater Downtown” area that includes the Golden Triangle, the north and south shores, the near-Strip District and Uptown.

    The full report is available at

    Most of the indicators are positive, Mr. Edwards said.

    One piece of data that never registered before is the growing number of people coming Downtown on weekends to exercise. That, he said, speaks to the work of Riverlife, the nonprofit advocacy group, and increased riverfront activity, from kayaking to biking and running the trails.

    “This is the first time we’ve seen that,” Mr. Edwards said. “It shows a more compelling place to locate, with the whole Downtown as your backyard.”

    But there are two trouble spots in the report.

    Commuting costs are up anywhere from 8 percent to 89 percent, looking at parking, gas, bus fares and tolls. At the same time, fewer employers are contributing to those costs with bus passes or discounts. So, while Downtown is holding its own as the region’s employment hub, those costs are a concern for the future.

    Also of concern: The cost of developing new housing Downtown is 25 percent higher than what the market will bear.

    There’s not much the partnership can do about commuting costs, but it does have an idea to lower the cost of building new housing. Mr. Edwards said he and others will be lobbying in Harrisburg for a state historic tax credit, a financing tool that could fill 20 percent of the gap.

    “That would lower the cost to the developer significantly,” he said.

    It only makes sense to make Downtown development more affordable, he said, because the residential population there has more than doubled in the past decade, from 3,050 to 7,260.Right now, the occupancy rate for Downtown residences is 97 percent, so there is good reason to believe that new units would fare just as well.

    For office space, overall occupancy is 90 percent, the highest in 20 years. Hotel occupancy, at 65 percent, is still higher than national average.

    “So we are performing pretty well,” Mr. Edwards said. “This information allows us to tackle the nuances and make things even better.”

    The spike in students is attributable to Pittsburgh CAPA 6-12, Point Park and Duquesne universities and the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. That influx, Mr. Edwards said, adds to the district’s depth because “they come at different times and spend money on different things.”

    For example, comic books.

    “This location thrives off the college students,” said Humes Grossman, a clerk at Comic Book Ink on Smithfield Street.

    Downtown regular Premo Masullo, 40, of Brentwood, is a server at the Omni William Penn Hotel. He’s noticed changes for the better.

    “I’ve been working here almost 20 years, and it’s more thriving than it was 20 years ago,” he said. “There are [more] smaller businesses Downtown. There are more kids, college kids, which increases business.”

    But not every part of Downtown is benefitting equally from the positive trends, said Julina Coupland, 29, of Point Breeze.

    “Pockets of it seem to be [thriving] and others are moving more slowly,” she said. “The Cultural District, the new Market Square are pretty vibrant. But mostly when I’m down here on weekends and evenings, it’s pretty quiet, not a lot is going on.”

    Other findings in the report include:• Average household size increased to 1.5 people from 2008, and 4 percent of households have children.

    • Top reasons for moving Downtown were convenience, desire for city living and appeal of the buildings.

    • Weekly average of spending at Downtown restaurants and retailers was $183.

    • Four in 10 commuters are ages 35 or younger.

    • The Boulevard of the Allies is mostly traveled by students.

    • Market Square and Fifth Avenue are among the busiest pedestrian areas due to recent revitalization.

    Staff writer Katie Park contributed. Sally Kalson: or 412-263-1610.

  8. What’s next: Authorities Plan to Revitalize Jeannette

    Thursday, December 30, 2010

    Mayor Robert Carter said he would be “trying to do more” during his second year in office in Jeannette.

    He wants to get more houses up and sold along South Sixth Street. As part of a $31 million effort to revamp the city, 25 new, single-family homes and a nine-unit townhouse complex have already been built there.

    He wants to raze dilapidated facilities in the city — including the old Fourth Avenue Hotel, one of the city’s earliest landmarks; its land is slated to become a parking area.

    He wants the former PNC Bank property on Clay and Fourth avenues sold — which he expects will be easier with a new parking area behind it.

    And, he wants to invite visitors and make sure people know that Jeannette is “a full-service city,” he said.

    “We want to make this a welcoming community,” he said.

    A new Dollar General store that opened on Clay Avenue this year is proof Jeannette is still a great place to do business, he said.

    “What we don’t have in manufacturing anymore, we have in stores and restaurants,” he said.

    He said residents of neighboring communities still visit Jeannette to eat at The Nest, a seafood and steak restaurant on Clay Avenue, and DeNunzio’s, an Italian restaurant on Lowry Avenue.

    Businesses in the industrial park will join those eateries on the city’s tax rolls next year as the tax breaks expire.

    With more money being added to Jeannette’s bottom line, city clerk Michael Minyon is optimistic.

    “I can feel we’re starting to turn a corner,” he said.

    Council approved a $5.4 million budget this month that holds the tax rate at 32.62 mills.

    One mill generates about $64,000 for the city.

    Council also voted this month to raise some of its fees, a move that is expected to bring in more than $300,000 to the city, according to Mr. Minyon.

    Earned income tax will be raised by 0.15 percent. Garbage fees will increase from $10.80 a month to $13.50 a month. And the mechanical device fee is doubling from $150 a year to $300 a year.

    “These moves will help the city move forward,” Mr. Carter said.

    But he’s mindful as he moves forward, remembering the nearly $1 million deficit accumulated in Jeannette during the last few years.

    “We worked hard this year to correct mistakes of the past. We don’t want to start making them again,” he said.

    — Candy Woodall

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Phone: 412-471-5808  |  Fax: 412-471-1633