The fate of Uptown’s Tito House, which has become a subject of debate among residents and a developer that wants to tear it down, could be resolved as soon as next week.
Dallas-based Fountain Residential Partners wants to buy and develop the site along Fifth Avenue to build an $87 million mixed-use development with about 11,000 square feet of commercial space and 280 apartments, 5% of which would be earmarked as affordable housing.
Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle said attorneys for the developer, Uptown Partners and the building’s owners, who oppose the historic designation, have been working to reach a settlement that may allow for a portion of the site to be preserved while the rest is used for a potential development.
While Lavelle said he’d like to see the parties involved come to terms, he said City Council must take a final vote on the historic designation proposal by next week.
“In my personal opinion, I probably would not vote to make it historic. However, the community that I represent is wholeheartedly behind making it historic, and I do believe my job is to represent their interests,” Lavelle said, explaining that he will vote in favor of the historic designation.
Built in 1884, the house was owned by Joe Tito, a prominent Prohibition-era bootlegger, who later became the owner of Latrobe Brewing Co.
The Tito Garage, located behind the house on Colwell Street, also is nominated for historic designation. It became the brewing company’s first Pittsburgh beer distributor and was the first known place where Rolling Rock beer was sold, starting in 1935.
Tito — along with friend and business partner Gus Greenlee — contributed to the success of the Pittsburgh Crawfords, a Negro League baseball team that played at the former Greenlee Field in the city’s Hill District.
City Council heard debate on the future of the structures in April from members of the community, the owners of the properties and the potential developer.
Lavelle noted that, even if the building does not earn historic designation, the developer would still need to go through proper processes to have their project approved.
Uptown Partners, the community group calling for the site to be preserved, does not currently have the money to revitalize the building, Lavelle said. Part of the ongoing negotiations about the future of the site include a potential agreement that, if the group can’t raise the funds in a set amount of time, the property could revert back to the developer.
Councilman Bruce Kraus said he, like Lavelle, supported the idea of a compromise that allows a portion of the site to be designated as historic and the rest to be developed.
Kraus said his personal inclination was not in favor of the designation for the house. Still, he said, the community he represents supports the designation, so he would, too.
“I believe there are times where I have to put my personal thoughts behind and lobby for the wishes of the community that I was sent here to represent,” he said.
Some council members said they were concerned that granting historical designation to the property would rob the owners of their rights to sell it. The current owners of the Tito House inherited it from their parents, and said they would now like to sell it to a developer who could revitalize a site they can’t care for while living out of the area.
“I believe when you do not own a property, when you make something historic, it is a taking of rights from a property owner,” Councilman Ricky Burgess said. “I get really uncomfortable when community people decide to take rights away from individuals, because that’s a slippery slope. I think the majority does not always make it right.”
In a preliminary vote, Councilman Anthony Coghill and Burgess opposed the historic designation. Lavelle joined council members Deb Gross, Bruce Kraus, Kail-Smith, Erika Strassburger and Bobby Wilson in voting in favor of the measure. Councilman Corey O’Connor was not present for the vote.
A final vote could be held as early as next week, though Lavelle noted that this could be avoided if the involved parties can reach an agreement on their own terms.