Keith B. Key was already well familiar with the beige-brick building that rises five stories on Fifth Avenue at the end of the Birmingham Bridge in Uptown.
“We’ve been looking in that area for quite a while,” he said. “I’m a Hill District-born kid so I knew the area pretty well.”
Key grew up in Pittsburgh, but his company KBK Enterprises, is headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, with a local office in the Mexican War Streets.
The former Burrell Scientific building, actually three combined structures, at 2231 Fifth Avenue, was just down the hill from where KBK developed 366 residential units for the two-phase Skyline Terrace development in the Hill District.
So, Key found it to be a natural progression to buy the property and prepare it for a future redevelopment, considering mixed-income residential units, retail and office, and perhaps even a new local office for his company.
Allegheny County real estate records indicate that an affiliate of KBK called 2211 Fifth Avenue Development LLC bought the main Burrell building and three other neighboring parcels for $1.76 million in a transaction that closed in mid-December 2018.
Already active elsewhere in Pittsburgh, including on the site of the former Civic Arena as well in Homewood, Key has had architects explore the building in order to hash out a design approach for redeveloping the property, which could include new construction on some of the surrounding lots.
Key sees the property as a major gateway site for Uptown that is in close proximity to Oakland, the South Side and downtown.
“It will define the entrance to Uptown,” said Key. “We want to do something really special there.”
He has every reason to think there’s strong demand for more residential units there, noting that Skyline Terrance is fully leased, with a waiting list of 1,000 people.
Overall, KBK has developed about 1,000 units of housing in the city of Pittsburgh, said Key, most of it mixed-income, some with affordable components.
He expects to establish a plan for the redevelopment of the 63,000-plus-sqare-foot building and its 1.6-acre site in the next few months.
“We’re hoping that between now and mid-year we’ll have it locked and loaded,” said Key.
KBK’s redevelopment of the property follows a previous plan by an affiliate of a nonprofit called Made Right Here to buy the building and reconfiguring it as an advanced manufacturing/coworking facility which fell through and moved on to the North Side.
Jean McNutt, executive director of Uptown Partners of Pittsburgh, a community development organization in the neighborhood, described the property’s redevelopment as “critical” for the neighborhood as well as for its connection to the nearby Hill District.
“He does seem like he’s going to be a good partner for us to work with,” she said of Key.
She added, “we look forward to a dynamic development project” and to expect her organization to “encourage bold design” along with sustainable features and jobs for residents of the neighborhood.
“I think that’s his wheelhouse,” she said.