Rick Belloli and his team were not looking to do business in Lawrenceville.
He and his two partners at Q Development, Douglas Duerr and Matthew Quigley, consider themselves specialists in “catalytic” real estate investments that aim to support or jumpstart development in Pittsburgh’s underserved or overlooked neighborhoods. Lawrenceville, with its new and growing class of young professionals, didn’t seem to need the help.
“Lawrenceville is catalyzing on its own, very rapidly these days,” Belloli says, “We didn’t feel the need to participate.”
However, Q Development also strives to protect and restore historic and architecturally significant buildings. Buildings like the more than 100-year-old Bayard Middle School on Hatfield Street.
Despite being on the National Register of Historic Places, the building sat vacant for more than 20 years. Belloli and his team got word that interested parties were considering buying the land and demolishing the old schoolhouse.
“We saw the building had great historical fabric to it,” Belloli says. Though restoring it would be the more expensive route, Q Development decided to take on the project, buying the building outright in 2016.
“We consider ourselves a double bottom line real estate developer. We’re not doing this for charity,” he says. “We need a return, but we’re more patient in that economic return than most.”
The $3.5 million project brought other challenges as well: Before helping to found Q Development five years ago, Belloli had spent more than 20 years doing redevelopment work for community development corporations and nonprofit groups in Pittsburgh and Detroit. The experience left him with a keen awareness of the way real estate deals can bring charged issues of class and community to the surface.
This was especially true in rapidly gentrifying Lawrenceville, which he described as having “development fatigue” and a general wariness to ambitious new projects.
So they began by meeting with community groups like Lawrenceville United and business associations like the Lawrenceville Corporation to gain input on the project. They discussed broader, long-term goals for the neighborhood as well as basic information like convenient times for their crews to empty dumpsters.
“We always try to move in concert with plans the community already has,” says Belloli.
After this past summer of construction, all 11 of the building’s units were leased by the time of their open house on August 29. Rental prices for the units range from $1,000 to $1,950 per month.
From here, Belloli says he and his team will concentrate on other projects in other corners of the city, such as the Garden Theater on the North Side and the McNally and Bonn buildings in the Cultural District.
Belloli declined to give a timeline on those projects, saying only that they were more challenging than the Lawrenceville property. But he affirmed that he’s looking forward to many meetings with both communities.
“We want to work side by side with folks as much as they want to be involved,” says Belloli. “We want to build something that has an economic and a social return.”