Foreclosures raise doubts about Beechview real estate firm

Karl Cureton, of Brookline, stands across from a building he planned to rent from Atlas Development at 1600 Broadway Ave. on Thursday, March 21, 2024, in Beechview. The former barbeque restauranteur moved his business from Virginia to Pittsburgh on landlord Daniel Berkowitz’s promise to set him up a barbecue restaurant in the building, which was also supposed to house a hostel. (Photo by Stephanie Strasburg/PublicSource)

Atlas Development seemed driven to carry Beechview on its shoulders. Now the once-hyped firm is beset by foreclosures, and its co-founder sells bonds in Florida.

by Eric Jankiewicz, PublicSource

Pittsburgh’s reputation as a place of culinary excitement led Karl Cureton to consider moving his barbeque business here from Virginia. That consideration became more serious in 2016 when he met Daniel Berkowitz, co-founder of a real estate company called Atlas Development. 

“He found me and knew I was interested in Pittsburgh because it was the up-and-coming place to be for foodies,” Cureton said, describing Berkowitz’s interest in him as a courtship, which led to a tour of a commercial space on Broadway Avenue in Beechview.  

“I came up here to Beechview and saw the space and told him I’d have to think about it,” Cureton said. Berkowitz even offered to rent him a house in Beechview.

Later that year, Cureton decided to uproot his business, Brothas BBQ, and life in Virginia and bring his cooker and recipes to Pittsburgh. 

Steve Tolin also began conversations in 2016 with Berkowitz to move his Special FX Makeup Studio from the East End to Beechview.

“He had a perfect building for me that was very affordable to rent,” Tolin said, explaining that Berkowitz allowed him to alter the space as needed to create set pieces and other special effects props. 

“We were both interested in developing Beechview,” Tolin said. “It’s a gem that has never really been polished.”

So Tolin took Berkowitz up on the offer, moving his business into a building on Broadway. Tolin’s affection for Berkowitz grew to the point where he trusted the landlord to watch his kids, and he said that he would have been willing to get into a physical fight for him. 

Cureton and Tolin say special arrangements they had with Berkowitz made them financially vulnerable and they were eventually evicted from properties owned by their erstwhile friend, business partner and confidant.

Tolin and Cureton were among the people and organizations pulled into a business romp adorned in flashy promises of revitalization, but with ominous notes of deja vu. 

The company that drew them in now faces financial challenges. In February, a bank filed 12 foreclosure lawsuits against limited liability companies [LLCs] tied to Atlas Development. The lawsuits are the latest unraveling of a company whose owners were once hailed as a “dynamic duo” poised to energize Beechview. 

They pitched their work as a way for Beechview to recover from the disappointments of developer Bernardo Katz, who bought numerous neighborhood properties in the early aughts but became a fugitive after federal prosecutors charged him with bank fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy. From 2016 through 2019, Atlas sparked hopes of reclaiming fallow businesses in the neighborhood through promises of a jazz club, a hostel and more

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