Separated by train tracks from The Waterfront shopping center, the neighborhood of Homestead hasn’t seen much new investment in a long time — but slowly, steadily, things are starting to happen. One example is the restoration of the Masonic Hall at 338 E. 9th Avenue, by Q Development, into 20 market-rate apartments called the Homestead Masonic Hall Lofts.

After talking to people in the neighborhood, Rick Belloli of Q Development thinks it’s the first fully market-rate project in Homestead since at least the 1980s. Rents start at $800 for a studio apartment and average $1,300 for a one-bedroom unit. There are also 1,400-square-foot live/work studios for $2,500.

For Q Development Principal Doug Duerr, it’s a very personal project. “I grew up in this area, and my father was a principal at two elementary schools in Steel Valley School District for many years,” says Duerr. “My sister Susie (Duerr) Kaufold taught at Barrett School.”

“He used to go to church a block away,” notes Belloli. “That’s kind of how we ended up there; he was driving through the neighborhood and saw that building.”

Built in 1917 by Freemasons, the building features special diamond-pattern floor tiles unique to Masonic halls.

Homestead Masonic Hall Lofts. Photo courtesy of Q Development.

“When we bought it at the end of 2017, it was probably 80 to 90 percent vacant, and the upper floors hadn’t been used in a great many years,” says Belloli. “We typically do residential reuse. Our focus is on capturing the historic flavor of buildings and blending historic and modern in the same space.”

Belloli also notes the “fantastic array of buff and yellow masonry and brickwork and patterns throughout the exterior of the building and the two primary sides.”

Some historic features in the stately building, which anchors the Homestead Historic District, took some imagination to reuse.

“We really had to work to figure out the best way to enhance and preserve the Great Hall,” says Belloli. “We couldn’t keep it as a single room, but what we did was put one wall in the building. That’s why we’ve got two 1,400-square-foot live/work studio spaces that really capture the 18-foot ceilings and wide-open space of the Great Hall.”

Homestead Masonic Hall Lofts live/work space. Photo courtesy of Q Development.

In the process of renovating, they discovered a balcony that looks out over the fourth-floor ballroom. “We actually didn’t know it was there when we bought the building, because it was above a drop ceiling. Now we’re turning it into what we’ve nicknamed the ‘Library Loft.’ We’ve ordered some furniture and have made it available to tenants to go have a quiet space,” says Belloli.

Perfido Weiskopf Wagstaff + Goettel Architects and Mistick Construction worked on the Homestead Masonic Hall Lofts. The project received Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Tax Credits.

Q Development specializes in the reuse of historic buildings. Among their other projects is Eighth & Penn in the Cultural District (with Trek Development Group), which blends two historic buildings with new construction.

Despite the pandemic, the Homestead Masonic Lofts are already 50% occupied, after officially opening two weeks ago.

“It’s great to have Q Development invest in Homestead,” says Lloyd Cunningham, a member of Homestead Borough Council. “We believe their investment is the continuation of many good things happening in the Steel Valley with more to come. Their attention to historic preservation is particularly appropriate, given the many great old buildings that we have in the area.”

Belloli sees it as part a thriving neighborhood, on the cusp of something special. “There’s good things happening on 8th Avenue,” he offers. “You’ve got the affordable housing project at One Homestead that took place, you’ve got a yoga studio, a coffee shop, a couple of great restaurants that have opened in the last couple of years, Voodoo Brewery. Things are just starting to gel in terms of a more holistic revitalization. We think this is the next domino that tips in that direction.”