South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret Smyka
Contributing Writer 

South Side council expresses concerns over possible tenants for Beneficial Building


February 27, 2007

The South Side Community Council is concerned that a large capacity night club could be located in the Beneficial Building in the 1500 block of East Carson Street. They took their concerns before the South Side Planning Forum where they asked for a meeting with The South Side Local Development Company to discuss conditions to be placed on potential tenants. The SSLDC has a 10-percent stake in the building with Trek Development holding the rest.

Efforts to keep yet another liquor establishment from opening in the South Side — this time in the former Foto Hut building, or Beneficial Building — was the main focus of discussion at the February 20 meeting of the South Side Planning Forum.

It began when Roberta Stackawitz, of the South Side Community Council, read a letter from Joseph Bielecki, president of the council, expressing the organization's concerns about the development of the Beneficial Building, 1505-07 East Carson St.

The fear, he wrote, is that a “large nightclub” will lease the site, which is under restoration.

The proliferation of bars in the South Side has reached crisis level, according to some community leaders.

About 27 percent of all liquor licenses in the city are located in the South Side. There is also a high density rate, with six liquor licenses in the 1500 block of East Carson St., for example, and five in the 1600 block.

The letter, addressed to Toni Gorenc, president of the board of directors of the South Side Local Development Co., asked for a meeting to discuss the issue.

Rick Belloli, executive director of the SSLDC, said such a meeting would be arranged.

The ongoing $3.5 million repair of the vacant building is overseen by the “1505 East Carson St. Limited Partnership,” comprised of Trek Development and the SSLDC, and funded from numerous sources.

While the exterior of the building was renovated, the interior is not yet completed.

The completed major repairs consist of a new roof, windows, interior demolition, and facade restoration. Work on the HVAC systems will come later.

No tenants are yet lined up for any of the spaces.

Besides Foto Hut, the roughly 22,000 sq.ft. building used to house a card shop, photoprocessing center, and magistrate's office.

The building was originally the German Beneficial Union, built in 1881.

Among the specific concerns stated by Mr. Bielecki is the partnership between the SSLDC and Trek Development. Trek comprises 90 percent of the partnership, while the SSLDC makes up 10 percent.

Considering Trek's 90 percent, wrote Mr. Bielecki, “we are concerned that Trek can out vote SSLDC and rent to anyone they please.”

Mr. Belloli said when the partnership was written in 2004, types of uses like check cashing and adult entertainment establishments were excluded. But Trek is responsible for leasing the building.

“Trek would be within their rights to lease to an establishment with a liquor license,” said Mr. Belloli, “although the SSLDC Board has requested that that not happen.”

He said the SSLDC continues to work with the South Side Community Council and other groups who have questions about the project.

Community council members in attendance said zoning and enforcement are critical, such as for on-going problems like illegal valet parking.

The letter from Mr. Bielecki also raised concerns about the impact on the Zone 3 police force to guarantee the safety of residents should another entertainment establishment open in the block.

The letter also requested a list of all organizations which provided funding for the restoration.

It also asked for a copy of the material the South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association and the Chamber of Commerce submitted to the city Planning Commission when they voiced their objections to the proposed bar density ordinance on January 23.

That ordinance, proposed by Councilman Jeff Koch, sought to control the density of bars in the long-term. The ordinance would have prohibited a bar from opening within 150 feet of any more than two existing bars in local neighborhood commercial districts.

But the Planning Commission recommended disapproval as it would have had a negative impact on other areas of the city.

Mr. Koch is currently working on revising the ordinance reportedly to limit the zoning change to only affect business districts of more that three-quarters of a mile long. South Side is one of only four business districts in the city of that length.

A meeting to discuss bar legislation will be held on February 28 at 7:30 p.m. at the South Side Market House.

It is sponsored by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Mr. Koch.

Invited guests include Chief of Police Nate Harper; Zone 3 Police Commander Larry Ross; Director of City Planning Pat Ford; Acting City Solicitor George Spector and others.

Forum chair Hugh Brannan said it is an opportunity to share concerns and issues about the proliferation of bars on the South Side.

His intention is to make a speech on behalf of the Planning Forum. He wants to be backed up by member groups.

To that end, he asked representatives to let him know if their organizations plan to speak.

Anyone who wants to speak for three minutes must contact Josette Fitzgibbons, of the Dept. of City Planning, at 412-255-0760.

In other news, Mr. Belloli, said the proposed Asian investment center planned for the SouthSide Works is dead.

The mixed use development for Asian investors was to be known as “1 International Center.”

The building is now being reformulated as a traditional office building, he said.

In other business, Christine Gaus said the recent inclement weather has cancelled attempts to hold a meeting on a revision of the South Side Neighborhood Plan.

The next meeting, weather permitting, will be on February 28.

About 500 completed surveys have been returned of the 7,000 surveys mailed to local households and businesses seeking input that will help the neighborhood plan committee set priorities.

Surveys can still be dropped off at the Brashear Association or the SSLDC until February 28. If mailed, residents should stamp the envelope as the post office will not deliver otherwise.

The next forum meeting will be on March 13.

Mr. Brannan said he would invite Commander Ross to present a crime report, as did the former Zone 3 commander, RaShall Brackney, prior to the forum meetings.


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