Legacy of fugitive developer’s blighted properties lives on in Beechview
Pittsburgh plans to demolish one of the last remaining blighted buildings along Beechview’s main drag that was owned by failed developer Bernardo Katz. Another Katz building on the same street is under consideration for demolition as well.
City Councilman Anthony Coghill, who lives in Beechview and represents the neighborhood, said both buildings are beyond repair. He noted that the city and its Urban Redevelopment Authority have attempted for years without success to market the two structures.
The URA has agreed to demolish the building at 1601 Broadway Ave., but has set no time for that to begin, according to spokeswoman Gigi Saladna. Coghill said he’s lobbying Mayor Bill Peduto’s administration to raze a second Katz building, a former car dealership at 1611 Broadway.
“Buildings that could be rehabbed when Katz was here, they’ve been sitting and sitting like this place,” Coghill said of 1601 Broadway. “It doesn’t make sense to get somebody to restore it, because it costs too much money. The floors are gone, the walls are falling down, everything. Things just kind of went to hell stemming back to Katz.”
Officials for years have pointed to Katz as the reason development in Beechview’s business district has stalled for nearly two decades.
Katz bought 80 percent of the business district, but left the neighborhood in limbo in 2007 when he fled the United States for his native Brazil to avoid prosecution on federal mortgage fraud charges. He left behind a morass of lawsuits, mortgage foreclosures, unpaid property tax bills and vacant buildings.
The city in 2015 was successful in tracking down Katz and serving him with notices that permitted the city to take ownership of his properties and clear the titles. At one time, Katz owned at least 16 properties in the Beechview business district. Most have since been sold to private owners or demolished, according to state Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Brookline, a Beechview native.
“Right now Katz is pretty much history,” Fontana said.
Coghill said attracting businesses to Broadway has been a tough sell, but the residential market is blossoming. He said people want to live in the neighborhood because of a low crime rate and proximity to the Port Authority’s light rail line, which runs the length of Broadway.
“In council we’re always arguing over affordable housing,” he said. “We have affordable housing here. You can buy a house for $90,000 with a garage and three bedrooms here.”
Atlas Development, which rehabilitated a former Katz building on Broadway for its offices and several businesses, has spent $7.5 million over the past three years buying and renovating single-family homes and apartments.
Daniel Berkowitz, one of the principals, said the company owns about 48 properties containing a total of 80 rental units in the neighborhood. Atlas recently completed renovating a building at 1656 Broadway that contains six three-bedroom apartments. He said rent would be about $1,500 per month.
“We’ve got a waiting list,” he said. “We can’t build and renovate fast enough.”
Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, [email protected] or via Twitter .