AWARD WINNING PROJECT—Emeka Onwugbenu stands at the Croghans Edge development, located in the 3600 block of Penn Avenue, which won an architectural award from AIA for its design. (Photos by Diane Daniels)
While growing up in Nigeria, Africa, Emeka Onwugbenu never imagined that by the age of 27 he would be a premier property developer in Pittsburgh.
In the region for only 10 years, Onwugbenu has managed to accomplish quite a bit. He earned his bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from Penn State University and his MBA from Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business. He has worked for MEDRAD Inc., a business of Bayer Medical Care and in 2009 founded E Properties and Development. Since becoming an entrepreneur he has acquired and developed close to $5 million of real estate.
Always having an interest in real estate, Onwugbenu, an engineer by trade, said he loves his work. “I am being pulled away from the sites and the creativity of the developments to handle the corporate side of the business,” he said, admitting that he misses being in the field. “The good part of it is that we are a development company reinvesting in underperforming assets, land and buildings. Our company is looking for ways to create value and to put life back into communities.
Mostly operating in the Lawrenceville area, E Properties recently sold a property on 36th Street in the range of $240,000. “This property was an eyesore. It was condemned due to fire damage,” he said. “Now it exists as a three bedroom two bath unit creating value to the street and community.” Calling the development E @ 36th, three townhouses on the street that were built in 1910 have been restored with their historic elements remaining relatively untouched. “The architectural highlights include their distinctive stair railings, richly adorned exterior trim moldings and timeless fireplace mantels,” he said.
Two streets over, the Row @ 38th, a similar development consists of the restoring of several buildings as well as the construction of five new townhouses.
Describing the real estate development arm of E Properties and Development as a multi-faceted real estate company that acquires, develops, and sells residential and commercial properties, Onwugbenu said his firm possesses a unique blend of quantitative horsepower and qualitative finesse required to redefine the development process.
“We are dedicated to providing professional services for residential development.”
His pride and joy of developments is the award winning Croghans Edge. Located in the 3600 block of Penn Avenue, he describes the facades of the four units as a mix of corrugated metal, cedar wood, and cement siding. Built on a triangular slopping piece of land, Onwugbenu said, “Though challenging, a lot of people doubted that the site could be developed. Even the architects had uncertainties.”
Designed by mossArchitets the interior of the three and two bedroom homes create a modern contemporary feel with nine foot ceilings and designer kitchen layouts. The development recently won a design award from the American Institute of Architects and is listed in the Design Bureau Special Edition Magazine.
After conducting a community naming contest for the project, it was named after George Croghan who was a settler in the area in the early 1760s.
“When I first met Emeka I was impressed,” recalls Charles Powell, director of Diversity Affairs and Community Outreach at the Urban Redevelopment Authority of the City of Pittsburgh. “I like the quality of his work and his creativity and willingness to do what it takes to make a project work, even if it means using his own resources to move it forward.”
Powell says he and the URA are excited to work with E Properties on an upcoming project in the Hill District. Located near the Legacy Senior Apartments and the YMCA on Centre Avenue, the five million dollar project is to consist of a mixed used development. “It is a big project for us,” Onwugbenu said, mentioning that it is his first project with the URA. “We have the challenge to build 24 residential units and to provide a commercial area in a historical district.”
With a company goal to cleanup the streets and breathe life into communities, Onwugbenu says he operates with a three point philosophy. “If it is not economical, physically or environmentally feasible or socially aligned with the community we do not do it because it is important to be a part of the community not against it.”
By his company offering a full array of services to develop, redevelop, finance, lease, and manage residential and commercial properties, Onwugbenu said it is the people that work for and with you that make a successful business.“What we do is based on the skills and quality of work of my staff.” Between contractors, people in the field and office, E Properties employs 22 people and utilizes the services of other companies like Re/Max and mossArchitets. He says it is important to know your strengths and weaknesses and when to reach out for assistance. As a result he works closely with the Christian Evangelistic Economic Development group who provides his firm with technical assistance and web development.
Growing up with six sisters and a brother in a small city, Onwugbenu said he is fortunate that he always had good people around him to lead him in the right direction, a direction where he and his sister Uche now are able to operate a business like E Properties. “We were taught to always believe in ourselves and that is the advice I pass on to everyone. Don’t except defeat.”
Onwugbenu also encourages potential entrepreneurs to know that no problem is impossible. “There is always a solution, just maintain a logical mind.” He says he could not be successful at what he does if he did not enjoy his work and craft. “I am glad to be in Pittsburgh at this time, during its third renaissance. This city is historical, important to America and I am happy to be a part of its new frontier.”