PITTSBURG — Following the demolition of the building next to 5th Street Bar and Grill, two businesses are looking to occupy that vacant space.
The City of Pittsburg received letters of intent from two developers — 5th Street Bar and Grill, which looks to establish a beer garden and outdoor eating area connected to the existing restaurant itself.
Conversely, Rise Redevelopment Co-Founder Justin Benster plans to move to Pittsburg from Boston, Massachusetts, to develop the space as a three-story building with loft apartments in the top two floors and a commercial space on the bottom floor.
“We looked over them and presented them to the Downtown Advisory Board, and they had some hard discussions internally amongst themselves,” Deputy City Manager Jay Byers said. “The board selected the three-story building, but it still has to go in front of the city commissioners if we want to move forward with it.”
According to Benster, the proposal will be presented to the commissioners June 12.
“We’re just going through our process we always go through,” Byers said. “We create these boards for public input and they made a decision, and as we continue to grow and develop Pittsburg. We expect stuff like this to happen pretty regularly.”
Kyle Mullen, Co-owner of 5th Street Bar and Grill, said he approved of Benster’s involvement in the community, but expressed his concern with the Boston-based company’s dedication to this particular lot.
“When the city is getting ready to tear down Mike’s New and Used or any other project on Broadway, why not not help them get one of those and help me expand,” Mullen said. “I can’t build an outdoor event center that hooks up to my bar a block and a half away.”
Mullen estimates his project would cost about $250,000, while Benster said Rise’s endeavor could run anywhere from $750,000 to $1 million.
“The Downtown Advisory Board had a meeting, and we were not asked to come or even informed that we were on their agenda,” Mullen said. “We were not asked to present ourselves with any questions, and I will tell you that on that Downtown Advisory Board, there are a couple of people who are in direct competition with what we do and they did not recuse themselves from voting.”
According to Mullen, Benster had his letter of intent submitted two months before Pittsburg City notified Mullen of his ability to submit a letter. Additionally, Mullen maintained he was given only one week to submit his letter.
“What really bugs my dad and me is that it feels like ‘we let the local guy play, but let’s move on to bigger and better things,’” Mullen said. “That may not be the case, but that’s how we felt.”
Mullen said he does not feel as though the city has sufficiently supported local businesses.
“I just want a fair, legit chance,” he said. “I’m not bashing Rise or any other company, but if you can’t stand up for your own businesses, then what’s the point?”
Benster said he spoke with Mullen about the issue.
“We talked about the fact that we were shrinking the footprint for not only our building itself to have feature sets we needed it to have, but also give an opportunity to our local bar and grill,” Benster said. “If we put a 17 x 90 space next to the building that’s open and empty, we were open to maybe offering that space to them for them to lease some space from us and do the open beer garden they wanted to do.”
The Rise Redevelopment co-founder emphasized his desire to help rejuvenate local businesses.
“Who we are is not what some people may have this impression of — we’re not these big, bad city developers from Boston who are coming to mess up the city,” Benster said. “There are multiple buildings we are looking to do more stuff with and we’re in negotiations sellers on buildings they have that need to be cared for and brought back to life, so we’re not picking on 5th Street — initially, we were trying to negotiate how to save the building next door.”
— Brandon Schmitz is a staff writer for the Morning Sun. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.