Category Archive: Neighborhood Development
By George Guido,
FOR THE VALLEY NEWS DISPATCH
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Bill Godfrey of Natrona Comes Together, the grassroots neighborhood improvement group, says the group has a list of goals for this year for this aging, riverside neighborhood that’s nestled between two steel mills.
One is establishing a row-house museum on Federal Street.
The project would restore a row house to its original state and be operated by the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation.
Residents have been donating artifacts to the proposed museum, but the discovery of a $6,000 tax lien on the property possibly could complicate the project.
A steel heritage sculpture is proposed for the corner of Federal and Blue Ridge Avenue.
Natrona Comes Together needs $1,300 to buy the vacant property.
The sculpture will resemble the coal miners’ memorial sculpture in the Harwick section of Springdale Township and will be sculpted by New Kensington native Steven Paulovich. The parklet will be managed by the Rivers of Steel Group, based in the Mon Valley.
Another project involves ongoing additions to the Natrona playground.
A concession stand, bike racks, landscaping and a horseshoe-pitching court are among the planned items for the $142,000 federal grant.
Godfrey’s group hopes to have the former bank building renovated to the point where it could be sold, rented or leased to a private business.
The Natrona group also hopes to get AmeriCorps members to help manage the park and mow grass on vacant properties in the community.
Friday, January 21, 2011By Diana Nelson Jones, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Children’s Museum is $2.2 million away from raising the funds it needs to transform the sunken concrete square outside its doors into the Allegheny Public Square Park and make upgrades inside the museum.
Officials Thursday announced they had raised $6.3 million of the $8.5 million needed and that the remainder would be solicited as public donations.
The bulk of the money to date has come from foundations. A $250,000 challenge grant from the Buhl Foundation will match $1 for every $2 contributed by the public.
The existing square was created in the 1960s as part of the Allegheny Center Mall. A sunken area housed a fountain encircled by amphitheater-like seating. The area now is a walk-through zone, sometimes used by skateboarders but otherwise ghostly.
The museum chose San Francisco landscape architect Andrea Cochran in a design competition in 2007, when it embarked on its capital campaign. Ms. Cochran’s design for the new park calls for native plants, a meadow, 75 additional trees, solar lighting, a rain garden and a V-shaped walkway with benches and movable seats and tables.
The park’s art feature will be a stainless steel sculpture by Ned Kahn. Called “Cloud Arbor,” the piece will stand as rows of stainless steel tubes with nozzles to create “a sphere of mist,” said museum executive director Jane Werner. “It is a companion to our wind sculpture,” called “Articulated Cloud,” which Mr. Kahn also designed as 43 panels on the building that create the illusion that the building is moving with the wind.
A north-to-south row of cypress trees along Children’s Way will be kept while about 10 others will be replaced, said Ms. Cochran, adding that arborists had determined them to be unhealthy.
Plants have been chosen for their contributions to green design, she said. “We are teaching by example, with plants that don’t need pesticides or fertilizers.”
“Everything we all say we care about — the environment, green space and kids — all comes together here,” said state Sen. John Pippy, R-Moon, a museum board member.
The project’s budget will also cover alterations of the museum’s nursery, store and cafe.
“We are hoping to break ground sometime this year,” said Ms. Werner. The project may be completed next year.
Thursday, January 13, 2011
The Denis Theatre Foundation on Wednesday named Valerie Golik, the former executive director of The Pittsburgh Philharmonic, as its new executive director.
She replaces board member Jennifer Smokelin, who has served as interim director since the fall.
“We are delighted that Valerie is joining the Denis Theatre Foundation,” Ms. Smokelin said in a news release. “She brings with her an excellent background in arts management, programming, and a strong track record in fundraising and planning.”
When Ms. Golik, of Marshall, assumes the role Jan. 17, she will direct the foundation’s goal of restoring and re-opening the Denis Theatre on Washington Road in Mt. Lebanon. The theater, which opened in 1938, closed in 2004 in a state of disrepair. The nonprofit Denis Theatre Foundation formed in 2007 and began a fundraising campaign, with the goal of purchasing the building and restoring it as an independent film theater and community cultural center.
In September, the foundation announced it had raised enough money to purchase the building. Ms. Golik will assist with the capital campaign to raise $2.5 million to open the first of three planned screens. So far, the foundation has raised $900,000.
The foundation hopes to open the first screen in mid-2012.
“We are counting on broad support from individuals, businesses and charitable foundations from throughout the Pittsburgh area,” Ms. Golik said. “Once re-opened, the Denis will be a true regional asset.”
Tuesday, January 11, 2011By Mark Belko, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Discount grocer Aldi appears to be headed to the East End as part of the redevelopment of a former car dealership.
Michigan-based Warner Pacific Properties is expected to brief the city planning commission today about its plans to convert the Day Automotive dealership into a grocery, offices and other retail uses.
The grocer in question is believed to be Aldi, although Leslie Peters, an attorney for Warner Pacific, said the developer did not yet have an agreement with any particular store.
Asked if Warner Pacific were talking to Aldi, Ms. Peters replied, “I think you can infer that.” City Councilman William Peduto, who represents the area, said Warner Pacific had stated that Aldi would be the grocer.
The developer is proposing an 18,000-square-foot grocery at the site at Baum Boulevard and Roup Street in Friendship. It is also planning 44,000 square feet of office space and 3,000 square feet of retail space.
Ms. Peters said Warner Pacific planned to keep the exterior intact.
The building, with a corner tower that once displayed pulsating light after dark, has some historic value. Built in the early 1930s as a Chrysler sales and service building, it remained as an auto dealership until it was closed in 2009 by the Day Automotive Group.
“We’ll be reusing the existing building,” Ms. Peters said. “We believe it’s a significant structure, at least for Pittsburghers. Everybody knows the building.”
She added that the developer did plan some interior renovations to upgrade the space. The total project cost is estimated at $4 million.
Because the property is a former auto dealership, Mr. Peduto said there are ramps within it that will allow for parking on the upper floors. The grocery will be on the first floor. He said an adjacent structure would be converted for office use.
Mr. Peduto said the project has the support of the Baum-Centre Initiative group. Through a community process, the developer is also addressing concerns about traffic patterns and other issues, he said.
After a planning commission briefing today, Warner Pacific is expected to appear before the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment Thursday to request a special exception that would allow the property to be used for a grocery and office space.
Ms. Peters said the developer hoped to get all permits needed for the project by February or March and then start construction.
By Tom Fontaine
Friday, January 7, 2011
Saxonburg has received a $1.4 million state grant to make long-awaited improvements along historic Main Street without robbing any of its 19th century charm.
“We’re going to take new materials and create an atmosphere like it was in the 1850s and ’60s,” said Ray Rush, who will oversee the project for the tiny Butler County borough.
Saxonburg’s grant was the largest of six totaling more than $4.4 million announced Thursday by PennDOT. The agency awarded almost $25 million statewide through its Pennsylvania Community Transportation Initiative. The program provided $59.2 million for transportation projects in 2009.
Saxonburg will use its money to install new curbs, brick sidewalks, planter strips with trees, and period lighting along 1,100 feet of Main Street. That will cover roughly half of the area that is recognized as a historic district both nationally and by the state.
The borough can trace its roots to engineer John Roebling, famed for his designs of wire cable and suspension bridges. He designed and developed Saxonburg almost four decades before he began designing the Brooklyn Bridge in the late 1860s.
“It’s important to celebrate the old. It’s something all communities should be concerned about,” Rush said. The work will begin next fall and should be completed in 2012.
The city of Pittsburgh will receive $280,000 for a traffic study in the Strip District and Lawrenceville related to its Allegheny Riverfront Green Boulevard development project. The city wants to help make its largely industrial Allegheny riverfront home to lush green spaces, trails, housing, commercial development and commuter rail.
“This most recent grant will allow us to continue the positive momentum that is happening in these vibrant neighborhoods,” said Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.
Other grant recipients include:
• Richland, $1.3 million, to improve pedestrian access and traffic flow near the intersection of Route 8 and Ewalt Road.
• Airport Corridor Transportation Association, $700,000, to reduce congestion and provide better transit, pedestrian and bicycle access in the Robinson and North Fayette commercial area.
• Washington County, $443,500, to develop 9 miles of recreational trail to complete the Panhandle Trail between Carnegie and Weirton, W.Va.
• Armstrong County, $300,000, to perform a traffic study in Kittanning.
Thursday, January 06, 2011By Mark Belko, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Civic Arena has won a bit of a lifeline.
A bid to protect the 49-year-old landmark from demolition got a boost Wednesday when the city’s historic review commission gave preliminary approval to its nomination as a city historic structure.
The 5-1 vote clears the way for a formal hearing Feb. 2 on the proposed designation, one opposed by the Pittsburgh Penguins and the arena’s owner, the city-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority. John Jennings, acting chief of the city’s Bureau of Building Inspection, cast the no vote.
Even as it gave preliminary approval, the commission stated that the decision was not a determination on the merits of the application for historic status filed by Hill District resident Eloise McDonald.
In fact, nine years ago, the commission gave preliminary approval to the arena’s designation as a historic structure only to reject it in a final vote.
Nonetheless, Ms. McDonald said afterward that she was thinking “very positive” on the chances of getting a final vote in favor of the nomination. But she added it could be a tough sell since Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who appoints historic review commission members, favors demolition.
“I’m going to stay optimistic to the final decision,” she said. “But like I said, I know the politics of the game.”
However, Ernie Hogan, the commission’s acting chair, said afterward that the mayor is “not telling us what decision to make” on the nomination.
“We have a charter to uphold regarding preservation standards. That’s all he’s saying, do your job,” Mr. Hogan said.
In arguing the case for the nomination, Ms. McDonald said the arena, with its retractable roof, is unique.
To tear it down would be “just awful,” she said. “There’s a lot of young kids, if they would ever see that dome open, there would be a whole lot more support for it. If you’ve never seen it open, you have no idea how extravagant and beautiful it is.”
The preliminary finding is a setback for the SEA and the Penguins, who have the development rights to the land that includes the arena. The team wants to demolish the structure to make way for a residential, office and commercial development.
Travis Williams, the Penguins’ senior vice president of business affairs and general counsel, declined comment on Wednesday’s decision.
But Shawn Gallagher, an attorney for the SEA, said the agency does not believe the Igloo meets the criteria for historic status. Describing Ms. McDonald’s nomination as “frivolous,” he said the same criteria used to nominate the arena eight years ago — and rejected — is being used this time.
And while Ms. McDonald spoke of the marvel of the retractable roof, Mr. Gallagher said it “never really worked” and doesn’t work anymore.
“It’s not worthy of preservation,” he said of the arena, adding it is costing the SEA and taxpayers about $65,000 a month to maintain it.
The Penguins moved from the arena to the Consol Energy Center across the street last summer.
Scott Leib, president of Preservation Pittsburgh, noted that state preservation officials have determined that the building is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.
“We’re not trying to obstruct progress. We just have a totally different view of what progress is,” he said.
Wednesday’s vote prevents the SEA from demolishing the structure until a final determination is made on its status. However, the agency did not plan to start the razing until spring at the earliest.
Once the historic review commission has completed its work, the nomination must be considered by the city planning commission and city council before the arena’s final fate is known.
Pittsburgh City Paper
For the Week of 01.05.2011 / 01.12.2011
BY ANDREW MOORE
A local woman is hoping that the sounds of steelpan drums can revitalize one of the city’s most historic homes and the lives of young people.
The National Opera House, located on the border of Homewood and Lincoln-Lemington — and once the home of the National Negro Opera Company — has sat vacant for years. But now Jonnet Solomon-Nowlin, the building’s owner, believes her family’s U.S. Steelpan Academy can add value and structure to young lives, while bringing attention to the neighborhood’s often-overlooked past.
Steelpan drums were invented in the Caribbean — in countries like Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago — during the 1930s. Steelpans were originally crafted from discarded 55-gallon oil drums. To achieve their signature pitched sound, two rubber-tipped mallets strike the surface of the pan, where notes have been marked onto the stretched steel surface.
Starting at the age of 14, Solomon-Nowlin’s father, Phil Solomon, founded several steelbands in Guyana; he was named Musician of the Year in 1971. After moving to Pittsburgh in 1984, he founded Solomon Steelpan Company and began manufacturing steel drums for organizations throughout the country. Solomon was the first manufacturer of steelpans in Pittsburgh.
After dedicating years to this instrument, Solomon wants the next generation to take over.
“The whole idea of the academy,” he says, “is to launch the steelpan into the 21st century, for me to pass this knowledge on to younger people.”
Solomon-Nowlin hopes not only to pass on that knowledge, but to teach young people a skill that can add value to their community.
“I would like to see steelpan and the arts and music help young people,” Solomon-Nowlin says, “by giving them an opportunity to express themselves through art.”
While she’s working to restore the Opera House, for the past several years Solomon-Nowlin has been able to teach lessons through community partnerships. And when she begins a new series of classes at the East End’s Union Project this month, it will be a step closer to running the academy within the National Opera House.
The Union Project lessons are important, she says, “and the first set of students will be a marketing piece for the house.”
Using the house as the home base for the Steelpan Academy makes sense. After all, the building has always had a role in the emerging African-American art scene, especially during the previous century.
The three-story Victorian home sits on a terrace overlooking Homewood. Built in the Queen Anne style in 1894, it was home to many prominent black Pittsburghers over the years, including Roberto Clemente, Lena Horne and Woogie Harris, brother of famed photographer Charles “Teenie” Harris.
But its most significant tenant was Mary Cardwell Dawson’s National Negro Opera Company. Launched in 1941, the NNOC was the first African-American opera company in the country. The NNOC held productions for 21 years and traveled to Washington, D.C., New York City and Chicago.
Solomon-Nowlin says she learned about this history through the advocacy efforts of the Young Preservationists Association of Pittsburgh (YPA) and the group’s executive director, Dan Holland.
The YPA is a preservation group that encourages young people to be involved in researching, documenting and eventually restoring historic places. Once a year, the organization releases a Top Ten list of the best opportunities for preservation in the region. In 2003, the Opera House was on that list.
“Their Top Ten list and the education around it, and why it’s important to preserve,” Solomon-Nowlin says, “is one of the key things that brought awareness to the project. They were able to reach a lot of people.”
And that’s what Solomon-Nowlin is hoping to do with Steelpan.
The Young Men and Women’s African Heritage Association, headquartered on Pittsburgh’s North Side, has been teaching steelpan for 15 years, and the Solomon family has been involved since the beginning. Lessons were first taught by Phil Solomon and later his daughters, Janera and then Jonnet. Jonnet gives lessons on Saturdays at the New Hazlett Theatre.
Janice Parks, executive director of the heritage association, says the steelpan is a good fit for her students.
“It’s an easily accessible instrument,” Parks says. “You don’t have to have years and years of experience to be great. [Students] can pick up two mallets and an hour later they can play the melody line of a tune that’s familiar to them.”
Adam Warble, an instructor at the academy, agrees, and says “it’s definitely a popular instrument — it’s fun.” Warble says that his young students get particularly excited when he mentions current hip-hop songs that feature steelpan. But Phil Solomon stresses the versatility of the instrument. “Steelpan was actually created to play classical music,” he says.
Parks says her students learn to play everything from “Bach and Beethoven to Stevie Wonder.”
When the academy begins teaching at the Opera House, Warble thinks it will be “absolutely wonderful. Especially since the steelpan was invented in the Caribbean” — where the culture is heavily influenced by the African diaspora. “[And] since [the home] was a hub of African-American cultures, I think it’s wonderful to bring that back to the Opera House.”
The next step is bringing back the house itself. Solomon-Nowlin has recently hired grant-writers to find funding for the home’s restoration. Architects, electricians and carpenters have all agreed to work with her, and some have already donated time to the project.
Now, she just needs to raise enough money to begin the restoration, and to begin turning the Opera House back into a home for music. But she’s quick to point out that because her forte is music, she can use all the help she can get on the restoration side of this dream.
“I’m not in the preservation business,” she says with a laugh, “I’m just in it by default. My key thing is to just make sure it’s preserved. We really have to push forward.”
A sporting goods fixture for 93 yearsWednesday, January 05, 2011By Mark Belko, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
First it was Gimbels, then Joseph Horne, Kaufmann’s and Candy-Rama. Now another iconic Pittsburgh retailer is preparing to fade from the scene.
After 93 years Downtown, Honus Wagner Co. sporting goods store plans to close its doors permanently within the next six weeks after a going-out-of-business sale.
Harriet Shapiro, who co-owns the store with her husband, Murray, said Tuesday that the family, after four generations of ownership, simply had no one left to take over the reins.
“We’re very sad to see it go. It’s been a Pittsburgh landmark for so many years,” she said.
While word of the closing filtered out Tuesday, the clock has been ticking on the store for some time. In 2009, Point Park University reached an agreement with the owners on an option to purchase the property as part of its plan to move the Pittsburgh Playhouse Downtown.
Under terms of the agreement, the university had the right to take over the property once the Shapiros vacate it or in four years, whichever came first.
Mrs. Shapiro said she and her husband had considered selling the store but were unable to find anyone with an interest in purchasing it.
She said the store was not closing because of poor business.
“Absolutely not,” she declared. “It’s a closing sale. It’s not a desperation sale or a bankruptcy sale or anything like that.”
Opened in 1918 by the legendary Honus Wagner, the Hall of Fame shortstop for the Pirates, the store has been a sports fans oasis Downtown for decades, jam-packed to the rafters with jerseys, jackets, T-shirts, tennis shoes and other merchandise.
At one time, the store also supplied uniforms for the Pittsburgh Pirates as well as semipro and high school teams in the region.
The Shapiros purchased the store from Mr. Wagner about 1928. The shop first was housed on Liberty Avenue but moved to its current location on Forbes Avenue nearly 60 years ago.
On Tuesday, the store with the black-and-gold awning and sign (what else?) was closed for inventory, but will reopen today for its final days.
Patrons were saddened to hear about its demise.
Ron Gruendl, spokesman for BNY Mellon Downtown, said he still had a Frank Robinson model baseball bat he bought at the store in the mid-1960s.
“For many people who grew up and came into the city during the baby boom era, we’re losing part of our childhood,” he said. “Before there was Dick’s [Sporting Goods], before there was anything, it was Honus Wagner. Honus Wagner and Chatham Sports, those were the places.”
David Vance, a former Pittsburgher who now lives in Hudson, Quebec, just outside of Montreal, remembers driving to the store with a friend to pick up their first Little League uniforms.
“Along with standing out in the right field [seats] section of Forbes Field hoping to catch a home run and see [Roberto] Clemente up close, that visit to Honus Wagner was a cherished memory of my youth. It will be missed,” he wrote in an e-mail.
The closing likely will be a boost for Ace Athletic, a sporting goods store that opened on Forbes a short distance from Honus Wagner in September. Manager Tim Piett, however, found no joy Tuesday in knowing that the old store was closing.
“I worked there 27 years,” he said. “I was very close to the family. They’re very good people.”
The store will eventually be reborn as a performing arts center. Point Park intends to use it and several adjacent properties it owns to relocate the Pittsburgh Playhouse from Oakland to Downtown. The new complex would feature three theaters ranging from 150 to 500 seats each, production and teaching areas, a residence hall and retail space.
University spokeswoman Mary Ellen Solomon said the move wouldn’t occur until the second phase of the school’s academic village initiative Downtown and that that was still “several years down the road.”
For some, though, the promise of new development did little to soothe the pain of seeing another local landmark disappear.
“It’s sad. It’s a long-standing store in Pittsburgh. Downtown is getting empty,” said Brenda Lane of Scott, who stopped at the store Tuesday, hoping to purchase a Winter Classic T-shirt. “All our retail places are going by the wayside.”