Jewish comedian and Steel City Arts Foundation founder Steve Hofstetter is increasing his Pittsburgh presence by buying another church.
Two years after acquiring a formerly sacred space in Stanton Heights, Hofstetter bought a second church in Ross Township. Boasting almost 20,000 square feet of showroom, studio space and offices, the building at 3312 Babcock Blvd. will be transformed into Sunken Bus Studios, a comedy venue and film production hub.
Hofstetter said that after looking at several area structures, this one fits the bill.
“I wanted a space where we could film and where we could also produce live events,” he said. “This one was just perfect.”
Several factors make the site ideal. For starters, “it’s a three-story building with a street entrance on each floor,” he said. “That is so incredible. It's so difficult to bring a dolly upstairs.” Second, there’s a dedicated room for workshops. Finally, “the chapel is not only very spacious but has great sightlines and fantastic acoustics.”
Hofstetter plans to have the space ready by this summer and credited former tenant Audible Images with designing studios that welcomed both the Wu-Tang Clan and Dave Matthews Band for recording sessions.
Red Caiman Media — a group whose clients include Andrea Bocelli, Ewan McGregor and Leslie Odom Jr. — is moving its downtown studios to the new building and helping Hofstetter transform several rooms into a state-of-the-art post-production facility. Once complete, Sunken Bus Studios can welcome 200-300 people for events and serve as a site for set building, filming, audio and post-production.
The project is “unique not just to Pittsburgh, but I think to anywhere,” Hofstetter said. “That’s unheard of.”
The Jewish stand-up and podcast host is no stranger to repurposing old churches. Two years ago, Steel City AF (the nonprofit Hofstetter founded) bought a former house of worship in Stanton Heights and transitioned it into a “live/work/play environment for comedians in Pittsburgh.”
“We're still in the process of zoning — it's a long arduous process — but aside from that we're up and running,” Hostetter said of the organization’s Stanton Heights home.
More than 30 members of the organization use the space for writing, recording podcasts and filming. Three comedians live rent-free in an adjacent three-bedroom house thanks to a grant from Steel City AF. And member elections just occurred, Hofstetter said. The organization hopes to partner with the community on city cleanups and other initiatives.
“I'm trying to do what I can to move the organization to become self-sustaining,” Hofstetter said.
“You know, I never wanted it to be a cult of personality around me. I want it to be something that the members really kind of take ownership of and help run. And so the elections were a big step toward that.”
Though Steel City AF and Sunken Bus Studios are not affiliated, Hofstetter envisions a beneficial relationship between the entities.
“It's very easy for us to produce shows for Steel City AF at the new space and to allow Steel City AF members to utilize some of the equipment and collaborative space for filming,” he said.
Additionally, when top comics come to perform at Sunken Bus Studios, Steel City AF members can provide opening acts: “This is a way for them to learn and a way for them to get more paid work.”
With nonprofit Steel City AF pushing ahead in Stanton Heights and for-profit Sunken Bus Studios readying to launch in Ross Township, Hofstetter said there’s only one thing left to accomplish: “My goal is to bring an NBA team to Pittsburgh.”
Though the likelihood of a professional basketball franchise coming to Pittsburgh is ridiculous to most local sports enthusiasts, Hofstetter said the truth behind his joke is there’s little else the city lacks. Having lived in Los Angeles and New York City, Pittsburgh is the most “livable” place he’s ever called home.
“It has almost anything you need from a big city, but it's still easy to get around,” he said. “The parks aren't crowded. It's a simple, easy existence. And I love that, so I want to do what I can to make things even better here.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.