Photo by Rob Larson
Photo by Rob Larson.

At the risk of being pegged as “the church guy,” developer Ivor Hill has purchased another Catholic church property on the South Side to convert into luxury condos.

Hill, who repurposed the former St. Casimir Church as 22nd Street Condos, now plans to build 14 condominiums in the former St. Adalbert Auditorium adjoining St. Adalbert Church on 15th Street.

It was the first Polish Roman Catholic church on the South Side, established in 1883. The Diocese of Pittsburgh has kept the church operational, but the auditorium and school closed years ago. For a while, the parish used the building as a bingo hall, Hill says.

“It’s a very unique building,” says Hill. “It’s an old gym, built in 1957 as a nuclear fallout shelter, so it’s very well constructed. It was a very large gymnasium, with a very large basement perfect for underground parking. The building itself is ideal to turn into smaller condominiums that will attract younger [buyers]. We’re just about to launch presales.”

As he did with the St. Casimir project, which has four condos remaining for sale, Hill will collaborate with Indovina Associates Architects to design the spaces and with Kathy Wallace of New City Marketing to market them. They’ll range from the $300,000s to $600,000s.

“With the interest rates the way they are, and the rising price of all the apartments, most people could probably afford the mortgage, given what they would pay in rent, even though they have to put down 20 percent for a down payment,” Hill says.

Interest rates for a 30-year fixed-rate loan were 3.35 percent in January. Nationally, people are taking advantage of the lowest rates in months, says the Mortgage Bankers Association, which reports that mortgage applications soared in the week ending Jan. 10.

The South Side needs affordable housing for millennials who want to become homeowners, Hill says. “Not all of them want to be Downtown or in the Strip District. South Side has a lot more amenities for younger people, and it’s a walkable neighborhood. You could walk into the city if you wanted. And there’s all the Carson Street activity.”

He’s awaiting the final go-ahead from the City of Pittsburgh and, when that permit arrives, can begin construction immediately. “We’re rehabbing three condos on Mt. Washington right now. As soon as we finish those three, we will be starting on these,” Hill says.

Because of the building’s design — a gym with classrooms below — the condos will have 10-foot ceilings. The units will range from 900 to 1,400 square feet, with one larger one around 2,000 square feet. “The building lends itself to a large one on the stage of the auditorium,” he says.

Green space in front of the building means four ground-floor units will have gardens. Hill envisions sliding doors that open onto a deck and garden. The other units all will have some type of outdoor space, such as balconies.

Photo by Rob Larson
Photo by Rob Larson.

And Hill has his eye on another church project: the New Hope United Methodist Church at West North Avenue and Arch Street on the North Side. The property is under contract, he says, but the sale is contingent upon approvals from the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment. He’d like to build ground-floor retail space, offices on the second floor and three floors of condominiums, but needs a variance for five stories.

“This month they’ll look at our proposal and give us any advice, and then they’ll give us a zoning hearing to see if we get approval to actually build it,” says Hill. “Until we get that ‘yes’ from the city, we won’t close on it.”

The 15th Street Condos will be Hill’s seventh development in Pittsburgh since 2015. A former mining and machinery executive, Hill decided “retirement wasn’t for me,” so he began dabbling in real estate with a simple house flip in Manchester.

“We had fun, made some money and it grew from there,” Hill says. “Now we plan 18 months in advance. While we are building one, we are diligently buying and planning the next one. We’re a relatively small company. We do unique, good quality, luxury condos and we’ve got our little niche and that’s where we stay.”

Sandra Tolliver is a freelance writer, editor and public relations professional in Upper St. Clair.