Botero projects envision an improved Lawrenceville

| Friday, Oct. 12, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

The best description of Pittsburgh that Brian Mendelssohn ever heard is “it's like an old blues record.”

“It's scratched, but has so much soul,” said Mendelssohn, 35, of Lawrenceville.

The Carnegie Mellon University graduate made it his personal and professional mission to maintain that soul while smoothing some of those scratches. Mendelssohn is principal of Botero Development, a firm dedicated to rejuvenation of the Lawrenceville community.

“As a resident, he shares the vision many of us do for the revitalization of the business district and residential corridors, so we're excited to see that happen,” said Lauren Byrne, executive director of Lawrenceville United, a nonprofit that aims to improve quality of life in the neighborhood.

Since its inception in 2007, Botero projects have included restoring row houses along 48th Street and the Omega Federal Credit Union. A current project includes turning the upper floors of the Arsenal Bank Building at Butler and 43rd streets into loft apartments.

Mendelssohn and his wife, Rebecca Morris, own Wild Card, a gift shop at 4209 Butler St.

Botero's most recent project is happening a few storefronts up the street at 4115 Butler, the former Starr Discount. Mendelssohn's vision for the space includes an upscale specialty bottle shop with local, craft and imported beers; a 72-seat, single-screen movie theater; and a restaurant or retail occupant to be determined. A Botero subsidiary could run the bottle shop and theater, Mendelssohn said.

The upper stories will consist of four one-bedroom apartments and two, two-bedroom units.

Construction on the $2 million project is expected to begin Nov. 15; it could open in August. Botero will raise money later in the process, Mendelssohn said.

The building, one of the largest commercial buildings in Lawrenceville, was built in 1874. In its early days, it was a confectionery and “amusement” business.

“We're bringing it back,” Mendelssohn said.

At the bottle shop, customers will be able to buy singles, six-packs or growlers and attend beer tastings and educational events.

The theater might feature an Alfred Hitchcock marathon one weekend, a French new-wave marathon the next, then a showing of all the “Lord of the Rings” films — “the kind of movies you buy on DVD and wish you could see on the big screen,” Mendelssohn said. It's not about competing with bigger theaters.

“The movie industry won't allow us to do first runs,” he said. “We're too small.”

Byrne expressed appreciation for Mendelssohn's efforts to bring more than just bars into Lawrenceville.

“People are really excited,” she said. “This helps create a walking community where people can meet their neighbors and the people who do business here. A lot of people already stop in Wild Card to see what's going on in the community. That he's continuing to add to that, we're very grateful.”

Mendelssohn graduated in 2000 from Carnegie Mellon with a degree in material science and engineering. He moved to Lawrenceville in 2003. His affinity for the community mirrors his feelings for Pittsburgh as a whole.

“What other cities are trying to create — authenticity — Pittsburgh already had,” said Mendelssohn, who lived in Miami and Chicago. “I fell in love with the opportunities Pittsburgh presents itself.”

He moved to Lawrenceville because of “dumb luck,” he said. When it came time to buy a home, he scouted neighborhoods. One house on Lawrenceville's 42nd Street was too perfect to pass up, so he bought it, eventually converting it into condos.

Mendelssohn prefers jobs that make sense for the entire community rather than single projects that serve a select group of people.

“I've always rebelled against the idea of non-holistic thinking about real estate development,” he said.

He hesitates to call himself a real estate or commercial developer.

“I say I'm a Lawrenceville developer. Whatever Lawrenceville needs is what gets developed.”

Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948. or

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