Category Archive: Main & Elm Street Programs
Monday, November 01, 2010By Diana Nelson Jones, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
South Side Local Development Co., one of the most successful nonprofit real estate developers in Pittsburgh, will spend the next 18 months putting itself out of business.
The board decided to dissolve the little company whose 28-year tenure on the South Side has coincided with the neighborhood’s transformation in private property values, popularity and market economy.
A successor organization with a focus on public issues will be formed with community feedback to the South Side Planning Forum, the neighborhood’s umbrella for other groups, and the Pittsburgh Partnership for Neighborhood Development.
“This is an exciting transition, and I’m thinking of this as a huge success story,” said Ellen Kight, executive director of the Pittsburgh Partnership for Neighborhood Development. “They have really done what a (community development corporation) is supposed to do.”
Successful development corporations step in with public investment to help neighborhoods attract private investment. Some also have youth and job training programs, public safety committees and other outreach. The South Side nonprofit has largely focused on real estate and has built or renovated more than 100 homes in the past 20 years.
Private developers have added some 800.
“We’ve done our job,” said Tracy Myers, the company’s board president.
In 1982, when the company was founded, property values were two-thirds of the city’s median value, said executive director Rick Belloli. In 2008-09, those values were 170 percent of the city’s median. About 50 percent of the retail space along East Carson Street was vacant in 1982, and that rate is now at about 10 percent, he said.
Rob Stephany, executive director of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, said there is still work to be done by a high-capacity real estate nonprofit in the South Side’s adjacent neighborhoods.
“The target area is big, and the next step would be moving that [real estate] strength to the next frontier,” including Allentown and Arlington, he said.
“Clearly from a real estate value standpoint, the [development company] has been an invaluable piece of the puzzle,” he said. “The equity senior citizens have in their homes is growing, and that’s a proud moment. The fact that there are $400,000 sales in the South Side astounds me to this day.”
The remaining challenges largely have to do with the proliferation of bars, said Ms. Myers. “That’s a consequence of our success.”
The East Carson corridor’s accumulation of liquor licenses is considered to be at saturation by most stakeholders. Uncivil and drunken behavior on weekend nights has some homeowners at the breaking point. Resident Thomas Kolano said he is “very concerned a lot of people are actually talking about leaving the neighborhood.”
“If there isn’t a push-back from residents, this could become an undesirable place to live,” he said. “Sunday through Wednesday and some Thursdays it functions as a normal neighborhood — beautiful and vibrant. I love it. But Friday and Saturday are crazy. It’s like Jekyll and Hyde.”
The city has cracked down on parking violations in recent weeks, and Councilman Bruce Kraus has held several meetings to promote a management strategy for Carson businesses.
Mr. Stephany said a neighborhood improvement district “is an essential next step. The only way to correct some of the issues there is to have collaborative problem solving.”
A neighborhood improvement district is like a business improvement district, except it includes interests beyond those of businesses, such as parks. Participants pay a fee to have the interests of their stated district managed and maintained. The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership is one example of a business improvement district.
A management strategy for East Carson businesses was recommended several years ago by consultants from the International Downtown Association. A committee of the South Side Planning Forum is gathering feedback to determine the range of focus of the successor organization.
The Pittsburgh Partnership for Neighborhood Development paid for an employee to go door-to-door to gather that feedback. The staff of the local development company will not be involved in the successor agency, although some of its board may be.
Ms. Myers said that while winding down, the agency “still has properties and buildings we want to make sure are well cared for. Some entity needs to keep an eye on these things, to protect all the progress we’ve made to improve the physical environment” and ensure that developers follow historic guidelines.
“Some things we do will have to be done by someone else or not get done,” she said. “The community has to set its priorities.”
Monday, November 01, 2010By Joe Smydo, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Up hills, along tight curves and down into the river valleys, a bus full of local real-estate agents navigated Pittsburgh last week on a tour the Urban Redevelopment Authority put together to boost city home sales.
“I just got a whole different perspective,” said Mary Lynne Deets, education manager for the Realtors Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh, who sold only about five homes in the city during a 30-year sales career.
That’s the kind of statistic the URA would like to change.
While open to all real estate professionals, the tour was designed to enlighten suburban agents unfamiliar with the city and all it has to offer. Officials hope their upbeat message will hit home, many times over.
“A lot of people want a walkable, pedestrian-friendly community to live in with a lot going on. That’s what urban living is all about,” said Kyra Straussman, URA real estate director.
Ms. Straussman said the URA ramped up home marketing efforts at Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s direction about three years ago.
In May, the URA launched a Web site — Pittsburghcityliving.com — that pairs prospective home buyers with neighborhoods meeting their requirements. “It’s like Match.com for your neighborhood,” Ms. Straussman said.
The workshop for real estate agents, “City Living: A Focus on the Pittsburgh Client,” was another phase of the initiative. It was developed by Ms. Straussman; Josette Fitzgibbons, coordinator of the Mainstreets and Elm Street programs; and Megan Stearman, Mainstreets development specialist.
About 20 agents, most with little knowledge of the city, signed up. Under a special arrangement with the state Real Estate Commission, all received continuing education credits needed to maintain their licenses.
The agents saw new construction on the Central North Side, in Fineview and at Summerset at Frick Park. They heard about the house-by-house revival of Friendship, the development spurt in East Liberty and Lawrenceville’s recent emergence as a hot housing market.
They visited Riverview Park on the North Side, Pittsburgh Phillips K-5 on the South Side and Pittsburgh Brashear High School in Beechview. Sometimes, “neighborhood ambassadors” climbed aboard to talk about their communities and how civic groups augment the development work of city agencies.
“You know, we had rave reviews from the ‘students,’ ” Ms. Deets said, noting most continuing education workshops for real estate agents are classroom sessions on such issues as tax assessment and foreclosures.
Because the workshop was unusual, the Realtors Association had to persuade the Real Estate Commission to give the continuing education credits, Ms. Deets said. The participants did spend some time in a classroom, learning about tax abatement, other home buyer incentives and the Pittsburgh Public Schools.
To address concerns about the quality of city schools, the URA scheduled presentations about city magnet programs, the district’s academic improvement efforts and the Pittsburgh Promise college scholarship program. To counter other concerns about urban living, the URA arranged for the group to meet a man who’s raising two teenage girls on the South Side Flats and a single woman who lives in Allegheny West.
The URA plans to offer the workshop again in the spring. In the meantime, to track the success of last week’s program, the URA will send a thank-you gift to any participant who provides verification of a city home sale.
Ellen Connelly, a Howard Hanna agent who works mostly in the city, said the tour will make her job easier.
“I have an out-of-town client coming in. She’s looking at Sewickley. She’s looking at Fox Chapel. But she’s really focused on the city,” Ms. Connelly said.
Thursday, October 28, 2010By Norm Vargo
Will the Lamp shine again?
The once-popular movie theater in downtown Irwin closed in 2005. Its marquee still boldly predicts “the Lamp will shine again.”
But $500,000 is needed for that to happen.
Westmoreland Cultural Trust acquired ownership from Irwin-based KCS Real Estate Services in 2007. KCS purchased the property in early 2005.
The Trust spent more than $400,000 on renovations, but the project stalled nearly two years ago when that Greensburg-based nonprofit ran out of funds.
Renovations included a new roof, plumbing and electrical work, and a clean-up of the interior and marquee.
In 2008, S&T Bancorp donated $5,000 for a new heating, ventilating and air conditioning system.
The shuttered 75-year-old landmark, viewed as a key to the economic revival of Irwin’s business district, has become an eyesore along Main Street. The first phase of a state-funded $1.9 million Streetscape project should start in February.
Trust officials, however, estimate that $500,000 more is needed to complete renovations, according to Irwin council president Deborah Kelly. And she said the Trust does not have the money to resume the project.
Residents of the borough and surrounding areas may be asked to chip in as part of a public-private fundraising effort to complete renovations and reopen the Lamp as a cultural center/movie theater.
That option was discussed recently when concerned borough and Irwin Project officials met with state, county and Trust representatives to discuss the future of the theater-restoration project, Ms. Kelly disclosed.
“Timing is critical to the revitalization of downtown,” Ms. Kelly said. “I set up the meeting with the Trust to determine if we’re going anywhere with the Lamp Theatre. They say it is still over $500,000 away from completion of renovations.
“That said, we did some brainstorming to meet some of that funding issue. We’re going to form a committee to explore some fundraising options from the borough and from within the community.”
She added that the borough has asked the Trust to provide a business plan for the renovations, an operating plan once they are completed, and will look into grant funding.
“Once we have that information,” she said, “we can have a more informed discussion about any involvement in fund raising options.”
Earlier this year, the Trust was awarded a $15,000 grant sponsored by state Rep. James E. Casorio Jr., D-North Huntingdon, to develop plans to complete work on the marquee.
Meanwhile, council on Oct. 13 unanimously adopted a resolution that will designate Irwin Park, Pangolin Park and Bell Park as smoke-free. The ban will take effect in November.
Youth friendly music venue The Red Theater makes noise in historic Polish Hill building
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Pop City Media
A beautiful piece of Polish Hill history is experiencing a second life as an all ages performance venue. The stately building at 3028 Brereton Street once housed the Emma Kaufmann Clinic, later served as the headquarters for the Pittsburgh branch of the Polish Falcons, and on October 9 had its grand opening as The Red Theater.
The building is owned by Architect Stephen Mesich, who lives in the building and rents space out to artists. Mesich began hosting scattered musical performances out of the building’s 1600-square-foot upstairs social hall last year, but it wasn’t until five weeks ago that The Red Theater was cemented as a serious alternative music venue for a wide variety of artists when Mesich teamed up with event promoter Sardonyx Productions.
The venue boasts a large 19th century concert hall with a 12-foot-deep stage and room for up to 300 people. Rich architectural details include a 35-foot ceiling, colorful lighting, and a spacious bar serving non-alcoholic beverages.
“A lot of parents don’t want their kids going to an alcoholic place, and we want it to be a good place for young kids to see live music. Parents will feel a little more secure about that,” says Mike Moscato, owner of Sardonyx Productions.
Sardonyx Productions has already produced two shows at The Red Theater and has two more scheduled in the coming months. On November 24, The Thanksgiving Eve Hip Hop and Rock Party will star rapper Ego. On December 24, a Christmas Party featuring The Long Knives, Dante Romito Band, and Sean O’Donnell will take place. Both events begin at 7 p.m. and cost $10.
Writer: John Farley
Source: Mike Moscato, Sardonyx Productions
Photograph copyright John Farley
By Brian C. Rittmeyer, VALLEY NEWS DISPATCH
Sunday, October 24, 2010
With its cracked walls, broken windows and dust-covered floors, any attempt to bring back a once-grand hotel on Leechburg’s Market Street would seem like an overwhelming task.
And then there are the ghosts.
It is a daunting task. The only way Linda Alworth can even approach it is one piece at a time.
“All this means nothing to me,” Alworth said recently as she looked around the dark area of the gutted building that will soon become a pub. “I can see it finished. I take one small area of it at a time.”
Alworth’s $2.2 million project to turn the 110-year-old building at 127 Market St. into the Lingrow Inn is moving into high gear. She expects a first-floor restaurant and bar to be open for business early next year.
During its life, the building has carried many names. In the 1920s, it was the National Hotel, and home to a pharmacy.
“We want to try to bring it back to the way it was, with a new fling,” Alworth said.
Borough council President Tony Defilippi’s grandfather, Joseph Defilippi, owned the hotel. He has a photograph of the hotel lobby with his grandfather, who died in 1925, behind the registration desk.
“It will be very nice to see the hotel being used again. I hope to see the entire building be renovated soon,” Defilippi said. “It adds a lot to the downtown area.”
David Farkas, director of the Main Street program for the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, called the project important not just for Leechburg, but for the entire region.
“When the project is complete, there will be an expanded dining offering in Leechburg (and) a place for people to stay who are visiting the area to take advantage of all the outdoor activities that are possible here in the Kiski Valley,” he said. “It will allow people who are visiting or here for special events or weddings to stay close by in Leechburg. We expect that to have an impact on the surrounding businesses in Leechburg and the whole area.”
In Defilippi’s old photo, a grand staircase leads up to the second floor. The hotel section of the building has been closed off for nearly 40 years, although the first floor has been home to various bars and restaurants in subsequent years. The roof had a bad leak, and there has been significant damage to the upper floors of the four-story building.
Closed off behind a wall and tiny doorway, the stairs are part of the charm Alworth plans to bring back.
“It will be grand. I can see the bride walking down the staircase,” Alworth said.
Hard work and tackling big projects come naturally to Alworth, a 56-year-old Gilpin resident who turned an 1850s barn in Gilpin into Lingrow Farm, one of the region’s top wedding venues. It was rated by local brides as a “best of weddings” pick for Southwestern Pennsylvania by the wedding magazine The Knot.
A granddaughter of immigrants from Poland and Germany, Alworth was one of five children who grew up on her family’s farm in Washington Township. Her father didn’t believe in sending girls to college.
“You have to believe in yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself, you’re never going to do anything,” she said. “How do you get things done? You do it. You don’t talk about it.”
Alworth started a landscaping business, Lingrow Landscaping, 17 years ago. She bought the farm at an auction six years ago and the event center is now in its fourth year of hosting weddings.
The inn will serve the farm with food and a place for guests to stay, once its 27 planned rooms are completed. But Alworth sees the building as serving the borough as well.
“I love this town. I love the people in the town. I believe in the businesses here. I believe they can do so much more,” she said. “I really want more business to come into Leechburg. This will be an anchor building.”
Alworth had a feasibility study done.
“We need places for people to stay and not just for the farm. We found out there is a real need,” she said. “We have the river. We have the kayaking now. We have great stores. We’ve been left in the dust long enough.”
Alworth paid $100,000 for the building in May 2009.
The economy has not been her friend. Getting the financing to do the work was not easy, and there were times Alworth thought it would never come and she’d be best to unload the building. But the financing finally came together.
Loans and her own money are paying for the work.
She didn’t get any government handouts. There are no grants out there for a for-profit business, unless she did a full and even more costly historical restoration. She will benefit from a program that phases in the property taxes on the value of the improvements to the building over 10 years.
Alworth’s landscaping employees are now gutting the building.
The guys talk of hearing people walking around upstairs. They’ve heard someone playing a piano that remains on the second floor. Sometimes the “ghost” is Alworth playing pranks, but other times…
They’ve removed the facade, exposing brick columns, and torn away plaster walls inside, exposing more warm brick.
They found an elegant arched doorway inside that had been covered up — and a significant crack near the front of the building. But Alworth says a structural engineer found the building to be in good condition, worthy of rehabilitation.
The restaurant and bar are coming first, to start a revenue stream. An architect is finishing plans, after which she’ll apply for building permits.
The bar, Olde Henry’s Pub, will be named for a brother, Henry Bazella, who lives in Georgia. Alworth says it will be like a New York bistro.
Most of the antiques of value in the building are long gone, but Alworth found a pile of solid old pub chairs – marked made in Poland – that she plans to have refurbished and use in the bar.
There’s an old cooler in the basement, where Alworth envisions a wine cellar.
The 90-seat restaurant will be named for her mother, Olive Bazella. The menu is a work in progress, but Alworth says the restaurant will serve healthy, good, affordable food.
“She was a wonderful cook, a wonderful mother,” Alworth said. “She’s probably looking down right now thinking, girl, you’re crazy.
“You have to be a little bit crazy,” she said.
By Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Monday, October 25, 2010
Last updated: 5:41 am
Six local communities were chosen for a pilot project of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council to revitalize river towns with free professional services, work plans and tips on finding money to pay for the urban makeovers.
Millvale, Etna, Sharpsburg, Aspinwall, O’Hara and Blawnox are the first communities chosen for the countywide project.
The Pennsylvania Environmental Council is rolling out the Allegheny County River Towns Project to help communities visualize, analyze and identify redevelopment projects and to re-establish ties to the rivers.
The project is paid for by grants from two anonymous Pittsburgh foundations, said Jim Segedy, director of community planning at the nonprofit’s Pittsburgh office.
The Environmental Council has signed a memorandum of understanding with Allegheny County to help carry out its master plan, which includes redevelopment of the region’s riverfronts.
The six communities were picked for the project because they have begun redevelopment projects close to the Allegheny River, Segedy said.
“Millvale has its trail and waterfront park, Aspinwall has the marina, then there is the housing development in O’Hara,” said Segedy. All of these communities are part of the 17 river towns slated for a proposed trail along the Allegheny from Millvale to Freeport.
“This is not another study,” Segedy said. “We are looking for short-term action projects, prioritized projects to help improve the quality of life in these towns and help with storm water management, water quality flood protection and economic development.”
What that means is that the Environmental Council will provide — free of charge to the communities — architects, engineers, landscape architects, planners and other professionals to assess the towns and come up with ideas.
“It’s a great way for the communities to look at their assets and do it in a unified, collaborative way,” said John Stephen, executive director of the Allegheny River Towns Enterprise Zone. “And that will improve the chances to bring in grants and resources,” he added.
Community input is critical, Segedy said.
“This is their communities and we want to do what they think we need and we want. We’re not from the government, we want to help,” he said.
After walk-throughs in all six communities next month, the council will hold public meeting in December for residents to talk about what their ideas are for improvement in the towns.
Then the council will provide a list of prioritized projects, directing the local governments to grants and other resources to jump start redevelopment projects, Segedy said.
“Shovels should hit the ground in the spring for some of these projects,” he said.
Thursday, October 21, 2010By Karen Kane, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
As the community prepares to shine a headlight on the historic pairing of the jeep and Butler, efforts have been ongoing to promote the preservation of the site where the jeep was manufactured: the Bantam building off Hansen Avenue in Pullman Center Business Park.
Butler Downtown, an organization committed to the revitalization of the city, coordinated a community drive to raise $25,000 toward the preservation of the building. A representative of AK Steel, which owns the building, said the company was willing to listen to any proposals.
In September, Becky Smith, Main Street manager for Butler Downtown, entered the building in the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s “This Place Matters Community Challenge.” The prize was $25,000 for the site that had the most computer clicks in the challenge.
Of 119 community projects, Butler’s Bantam Building ranked 23rd with more than 600 votes.
“We’re not going to win the money, but this effort raised awareness of the historical significance of the building,” Ms. Smith said.
The winner was a theater project in Austin, Texas.
The building is not being used, and its structural integrity is in question — the roof has a hole in it. Ms. Smith said the prize money could have been used to further the cause for placement on the national historic register or turned over to AK Steel to help with building repair costs.
She said several entities — including Downtown Butler, the Butler County Tourism and Convention Bureau, the Butler County Historical Society and the city of Butler — support the effort to have the building preserved as an important historical place.
The building was constructed in 1899 and 1900 by the Davis Lead Co. After a couple of owners, it ended up in the hands of American Bantam Car Co. in 1929. It was the site of the jeep’s initial manufacture in 1940.
In May, The Young Preservationists Association of Pittsburgh named the Bantam building to its “Top 10 List of Best Preservation Opportunities in the Pittsburgh Area.” The list is designed to encourage investment in historic sites throughout southwestern Pennsylvania.
A spokesman for AK Steel said the practical concerns were standing in the way.
“We have a sense of history ourselves, and we understand the interest in the history of the building; but I don’t know if it’s realistic,” said Alan H. McCoy, vice president for government and public relations.
Mr. McCoy said the building, which hasn’t been used by the company since the 1970s, not only has deteriorated but it is also on a site that is still used by AK Steel.
“It’s not just a matter of transferring ownership of the building. How would they then access it? There are substantial hurdles,” he said.
Still, Mr. McCoy said the company remained open to discussion. “We haven’t said ‘no’ to the idea, and we haven’t said ‘yes’. We just have to see how things unfold.”
Thursday, October 21, 2010By Mark Belko, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A former porn theater would become a food market and apartments would anchor the upper floors of buildings under a plan to redevelop a rundown block of North Avenue on the North Side.
The team of Zukin Development Corp. and Collaborative Ventures is proposing to convert the former Garden Theater into an independent or co-op food market or perhaps a restaurant-small market combination.
Kirk Burkley, president of the Northside Tomorrow board, said Wednesday that the market might be similar to the East End Food Co-op, an IGA or Trader Joe’s. It would be focused on providing healthy, locally grown food for the area, he said.
Conversion of the former porn palace is just one element of a plan developed by Zukin and Collaborative Ventures to redevelop the long-neglected block.
The team also is proposing to add about 38 apartment units in the block, mainly utilizing the upper floors of existing buildings. The Bradberry building would become all residential, with 16 apartment units, Mr. Burkley said.
Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority board members are expected to vote today on whether to enter into exclusive negotiations with Zukin and Collaborative Ventures for the next 90 days. Zukin is based in Philadelphia and Collaborative Ventures is owned by two South Hills men.
The time would allow the team to refine its proposal, develop a site plan, and line up and secure the financing for the undertaking, which is expected to cost $12 million to $13 million.
Zukin and Collaborative Ventures are being recommended to the URA by Northside Tomorrow LLC, a collaboration between the Northside Leadership Conference and the Central Northside Neighborhood Council.
The Zukin team was selected over four other developers that responded to a request for proposals issued in May for redevelopment of the theater and other properties. Only two of those proposals offered to redo the entire block.
Mr. Burkley said the Zukin/Collaborative Ventures proposal was selected because it seemed to best correspond with the wishes of the North Side community.
“They’re the best horse for the course,” he said. “They have what we believe to be the most realistic proposal that also meets the desire and goals for the community and in accordance with priorities set forth in our community plan.”
A big component of that plan relates to community gardens, community agriculture and healthy foods, he said. There also is a desire to increase the number of residential units in the block, to preserve facades and to create jobs.
“We see this proposal as being best able to meet those needs in the near future,” Mr. Burkley said.
While the Zukin team plans some alterations to the backs of buildings to create more parking, it intends to keep the facades intact, he said.
Apartments in the Bradberry Building are expected to rent for about $750 a month. Others will range from roughly $1,000 to $1,200 a month.
The developers are also planning first-floor retail in most of the buildings to supplement the apartments and the food market. Potential retail uses include bakeries, takeout restaurants and coffee shops.
Financing is expected to include about $3.5 million in public funds and $4 million from a North Side community loan fund. The development team also expects to put in about $1 million in equity. The remainder would be financed privately.
Mr. Burkley said the goal was to start construction next year. But he added it might be more realistic to start facade and stabilization work next year, with full construction in 2012.