With a catchy name in Whiskey Barrel Flats and a big vision, Bill Stolze is going where no residential developer has gone before -- to the south side of the Monongahela River near Station Square.
Mr. Stolze is planning to convert a former whiskey distillery at South Second and McKean streets into a condominium complex with 10 to 13 units, a private bar for residents and a rooftop deck with commanding views of the Downtown skyline.
He'll be the first to test the market on a stretch of riverfront that long has been considered a prime spot for residential development but one that so far has failed to live up to that billing.
Mr. Stolze doesn't mind blazing the trail.
"It's exciting. I like to go against the grain, generally speaking, in business so it appeals to me to be a pioneer," he said. "I think it's ripe. I think the whole area is ripe for residential development."
He may be right.
Mayor Bill Peduto has singled out Station Square as an area where he would like to see residential units built.
And Forest City Enterprises, after putting the Station Square entertainment, office and retail complex up for sale last year, reconsidered and is now seeking a partner to help develop apartments or condos on the east side of the property.
Forest City has been toying with the idea of housing at the sprawling site that stretches from the Smithfield Street Bridge to the Fort Pitt Bridge for nearly a decade, offering to build 1,250 condominium units as part of its unsuccessful bid for the Pittsburgh casino in 2006.
To date, while residential has blossomed Downtown, on parts of the North Shore, in the Strip District and on the SouthSide Works end of the South Side, it has not materialized in the Station Square area.
Gregg Broujos, managing director and founding principal of the Colliers International real estate firm, isn't sure why that is the case, saying it is a prime area for such development.
"It might be the age-old saying, 'you don't want to be the first one in.' I think everyone has been waiting for someone else to do it," he said.
Bill Russo, vice president and manager of Howard Hanna's South Side and Upper St. Clair offices, said most of the residential development on the South Side started in the center of the neighborhood and then expanded east to SouthSide Works rather than going the other direction.
"Development seemed to go upriver. I think it was just the viable way to go. I think there was more room that way," he said.
He added that some developers also might be waiting to see what, if anything, Forest City does at Station Square before embarking on their own projects. "I think it's that last frontier of the South Side," he added.
Rick Belloli, executive director of the now dissolved South Side Local Development Co., said developers had considered residential projects near Station Square in the past but for one reason or another they did not pan out.
"I think there are individual elements that explain that story," he said of the lack of residential development. "The market potential is there."
Mr. Stolze certainly believes so.
He bought the eight-story building in 2012 for $495,000 with the goal of converting it to condos. He plans to reduce the eight "short" floors to four, each with 15-foot ceilings, plus two penthouse units to be built on the roof. A full deck open to all residents will be built on top of the penthouses, offering views of the sprawling Downtown skyline.
"It's sort of a mini-Mount Washington. You don't have the height, but you have the same sort of view," he said.
Working with Terence Oden of Desmone & Associates architects, Mr. Stolze also is planning a private bar for residents on the first floor of the 31,100-square-foot masonry and timber warehouse. There will be storage lockers for spirits and wines. A humidor and a separate ventilated cigar-smoking area also will be featured.
The Whiskey Barrel Flats units will range from 900 square feet to more than 2,000 square feet. They will start at $400,000 and go to $1.25 million for the penthouse units.
While others have been slow to embrace the Station Square area, Mr. Stolze has no hesitation about it. He ticks off some of the advantages -- minutes from the T or the incline, Station Square next door, short walks to Downtown or the heart of the South Side, and quick connections to the parkway.
And while Downtown apartment or condo dwellers "are part of the skyline, here you get to see the skyline," he said.
"I believe in it. I really do believe in this project. I have a passion for this kind of stuff," he said.
And while Mr. Stolze and his firm Wilsto Enterprises may be the first to develop near Station Square, Mr. Russo does not believe they will be the last.
"I think it's the right time. Everything is based on timing and there's nowhere else to go upriver. So now it's down," he said.
Mark Belko: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1262.