Category Archive: Neighborhood Development
Retail, apartments slated for former Goodwill headquartersFriday, December 24, 2010By Mark Belko, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A $28 million project to convert the former Goodwill headquarters on the South Side into apartments and retail space is good to go, thanks in part to a $5 million state redevelopment assistance grant.
The grant, awarded by Gov. Ed Rendell last week, will help close a gap in the financing and enable the project to move forward, city Urban Redevelopment Authority board members were told Thursday when they authorized the receipt of the money.
Green Tree developer Burns & Scalo Real Estate plans to convert the seven-story building on East Carson Street into 87 market rate apartments and 10,000 square feet of ground level retail space.
James Scalo, Burns & Scalo president, said he expects the apartments to rent for about $1,500 a month.
He said the state money will be used to help build a parking garage within the complex, an amenity he believes will be a big selling point. He said it would be the only residential project on the South Side with secure parking within the building.
With the money committed, Mr. Scalo said he hopes to start demolition work inside the building next month. Construction work is expected to start in April, with an opening slated for spring 2012.
Burns & Scalo will clean and preserve the facade and also seek to have the Renaissance Revival building listed on the National Register of Historic Places, in part to make the project eligible for historic tax credits, Mr. Scalo said.
Burns & Scalo came under some fire last summer when it received permission from the city Historic Review Commission to demolish an adjacent Goodwill building to make way for an Aldi supermarket.
Mr. Scalo said there’s a reason the developer is seeking to preserve the Goodwill headquarters while it demolished the other structure.
“This building has a lot of historic value. The other one did not,” he said. The structure used to be the mercantile store for the J&L Steel plant on the South Side.
Also Thursday, the URA board approved a deal that allows Cleveland-based Forest City Enterprises to make a $9 million lump sum payment to the URA to close out a $20.8 million loan dating back to 1984.
The loan was used to build Liberty Center, the 27-story skyscraper that houses the Westin Convention Center hotel and Federated Investors. Since the loan’s inception, Forest City had made about $9.5 million in payments. The developer, about three weeks ago, approached the URA about discontinuing $400,000 in yearly payments in exchange for one final lump sum amount.
In agreeing to the deal, the URA will be accepting about $2 million less than the original loan, not including interest. However, Rob Stephany, URA executive director, said there was a chance that future yearly payments, which were tied to cash flow, could decrease, depending on the tower’s occupancy and lease arrangements. He said Forest City originally offered $3.5 million as a lump sum payment.
A consultant hired by the URA also analyzed the deal and concluded that a $9 million buyout was a “very fair number.”
Mr. Stephany said the URA plans to reinvest the $9 million in city neighborhoods that are eligible for federal community development block grants.
“It’s a great opportunity for us,” he said
Wednesday, January 05, 2011
Pop City Media
The historic Kaufmann Center in the Hill District, home to social services and events in the neighborhood for decades, is that much closer to reopening as a state-of-the-art auditorium for community development, education, arts and cultural happenings, thanks to a $100,000 grant from the PPG Industries Foundation.
The structure – part of the six-building Hill House Association, local provider of health, education, housing and other services – had fallen into disrepair and closed in June 2009. The grant from PPG, says Foundation Executive Director Sue Sloan, will aid the Center’s $5 million renovation effort, which includes a new entryway and LEED certification of the building as a newly energy-efficient green structure.
Hill House hopes the renovated auditorium will attract regional events to the neighborhood as well. Overall, the building’s renewal should contribute to the organization’s and the neighborhood’s health, both financially and socially.
“The real value is that this will help revive and increase services for individuals in the Hill District,” Sloan notes. “This is going to make a difference to the folks who are living here and using these services.”
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Sue Sloan, PPG Industries Foundation
Wednesday, January 05, 2011
Pop City Media
On December 28, the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation received its second annual installment of funding from Tristate Capital Bank, totaling $289,500. The funding is part of a six year, $1.8 million commitment by the bank in order to assist the WCDC’s Business District Revitalization efforts.
“The money is split 50/50,” says Tracy Evans, executive director of the WCDC. “Half goes to our office, staff, and projects, primarily infrastructure improvement projects we’re working on as well as marketing money for the overall borough.” The other half of that money is allocated for projects that the WCDC is collaborating with Landmarks Community Capital Corporation, a division of the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, to achieve.
The first installment of the Tristate Capital funds were used by the WCDC and LCCC to open Wilkinsburg’s Landmarks Community Resource Center last October, and this year’s funds will contribute to two new Wilkinsburg housing projects totaling $10 million.
“This funding stream has been key to the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation opening an office in the borough in 2010 and hiring three full-time personnel to further our goals in revitalizing the Wilkinsburg business community,” says John A. Thompson, WCDC president and mayor of Wilkinsburg.
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Writer: John Farley
Source: Tracy Evans, WCDC
John A. Thompson, WCDC
Thursday, December 30, 2010By Jacob Flannick
Sustaining local agriculture and preserving the environment will be important areas of focus during construction of Chatham University’s Eden Hall Campus in Richland, Chatham’s president told the Pine-Richland school board at its last meeting.
Many of the barns at the 388-acre farm on Ridge Road that will accommodate Chatham’s new School of Sustainability and the Environment will be converted into facilities and classrooms, Chatham president Esther Barrazzone said Dec. 20.
The new school will offer programs such as an environmental learning lab, initiatives in sustainability and environmental studies, food studies, landscape architecture and women’s studies.
Also at the Dec. 20 board meeting, Eden Hall Upper Elementary School principal Robert Cooper brought the board up to date on the school’s bully-free initiatives.
Assistant principal Joe Domagala, guidance counselor Melissa Sullivan and fifth-grade teacher Ryan Woods participated in the presentation.
Mainly focusing on the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, Mr. Domagala discussed the importance of a proactive approach.
“Everyone has to be on board with what we’re promoting to our school,” he said, encouraging student, parent and faculty involvement. But some board members expressed concern about the program.
Scott Stedeford said it targeted students who are too young for it, and that youngsters labeled bullies might have a difficult transition to middle school because of it.
Board President Stephen Hawbaker noted the importance of rewarding students who report bullying. “We must have our students confident in reporting things,” he said.
The board also discussed the district’s price rates for patrons to use district facilities. Board members in April unveiled a proposed schedule for charging fees to rent school facilities, including $15 per hour for a classroom, $100 per use for some athletic fields and $1,000 plus electricity for use of the high school stadium.Jacob Flannick: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thursday, December 30, 2010
Mayor Robert Carter said he would be “trying to do more” during his second year in office in Jeannette.
He wants to get more houses up and sold along South Sixth Street. As part of a $31 million effort to revamp the city, 25 new, single-family homes and a nine-unit townhouse complex have already been built there.
He wants to raze dilapidated facilities in the city — including the old Fourth Avenue Hotel, one of the city’s earliest landmarks; its land is slated to become a parking area.
He wants the former PNC Bank property on Clay and Fourth avenues sold — which he expects will be easier with a new parking area behind it.
And, he wants to invite visitors and make sure people know that Jeannette is “a full-service city,” he said.
“We want to make this a welcoming community,” he said.
A new Dollar General store that opened on Clay Avenue this year is proof Jeannette is still a great place to do business, he said.
“What we don’t have in manufacturing anymore, we have in stores and restaurants,” he said.
He said residents of neighboring communities still visit Jeannette to eat at The Nest, a seafood and steak restaurant on Clay Avenue, and DeNunzio’s, an Italian restaurant on Lowry Avenue.
Businesses in the industrial park will join those eateries on the city’s tax rolls next year as the tax breaks expire.
With more money being added to Jeannette’s bottom line, city clerk Michael Minyon is optimistic.
“I can feel we’re starting to turn a corner,” he said.
Council approved a $5.4 million budget this month that holds the tax rate at 32.62 mills.
One mill generates about $64,000 for the city.
Council also voted this month to raise some of its fees, a move that is expected to bring in more than $300,000 to the city, according to Mr. Minyon.
Earned income tax will be raised by 0.15 percent. Garbage fees will increase from $10.80 a month to $13.50 a month. And the mechanical device fee is doubling from $150 a year to $300 a year.
“These moves will help the city move forward,” Mr. Carter said.
But he’s mindful as he moves forward, remembering the nearly $1 million deficit accumulated in Jeannette during the last few years.
“We worked hard this year to correct mistakes of the past. We don’t want to start making them again,” he said.
— Candy Woodall
Sunday, December 26, 2010
By Mark Belko, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The city is looking to brighten up some “dark corners” Downtown.
Aided by a $4 million state redevelopment assistance grant, the Urban Redevelopment Authority hopes to target rundown buildings Downtown and work with property owners to upgrade them.
The project is designed to supplement a larger revitalization in the Golden Triangle that already has included the construction of the Three PNC Plaza office tower and the redevelopment of a former five-and-dime store and a department store into residential, retail and other uses.
With much of that work completed, the URA has decided to go after properties “in need of some reinvestment” — not to buy but to approach and work with the owners about making improvements.
“This is really a building-by-building, block-by-block approach,” said Yarone Zober, URA board chairman and chief of staff to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.
Mr. Zober said the genesis for the idea came during walks he and Mr. Ravenstahl had Downtown.
“One thing the mayor and I noticed at street level were individual buildings that needed work … or didn’t have street-level appeal. They detracted from the general feel and look of the Downtown corridor,” he said.
“It became very clear that we needed new tools to continue the revitalization of Downtown.”
Funds from the grant, awarded by Gov. Ed Rendell earlier this month, can be used to make facade improvements or to address “life safety” issues that prevent property owners from using upper floors for residences or other purposes.
Life-safety improvements could include stairwells, elevators or other measures to bring buildings up to code. URA executive director Rob Stephany said such improvements typically run $250,000 at the minimum.
While projects like Three PNC, Piatt Place and Market Square Place have helped to transform Downtown, there are other buildings still in need of work, including some near the upscale Capital Grille restaurant at Fifth Avenue and Wood Street, Mr. Stephany said.
“You go to wait for the valet to bring your car back and there’s blight staring you in the face,” he said.
Properties the city initially is targeting for possible work include the Thompson Building on Market Street between Fifth and Market Square and a building owned by the Order of Italian Sons & Daughters of America at Wood and Forbes Avenue that once housed a McDonald’s restaurant.
Also on the list are three buildings at the western corner of Fifth and Wood that house a jewelry store and other retail outlets and a couple of buildings on Wood owned by the URA itself.
Mr. Zober said the URA already has had discussions with the property owners about potential improvements.
David Kashi, owner of the Fifth and Wood properties, said he hopes to secure funds to upgrade the facades of the buildings. He plans to install new windows and perhaps add a marquee to the front of the buildings. He also is thinking about placing a “big clock” on the corner building.
“We’re going to make Downtown beautiful,” he said.
Mr. Kashi said he already has had one meeting with the URA and plans to have another next month to work out plans and budgeting. He had no estimate for the cost of improvements.
He likes the city initiative.
“Downtown is the center of the whole Pittsburgh area. I think it’s about time someone took the initiative and improved the look. Nothing has changed in 50 or more years,” he said.
Improving the overall ambiance also “attracts investors to bring money into Downtown Pittsburgh,” he said.
The program will require property owners to match amounts received from the URA. Mr. Kashi is not thrilled about having to do so but said he would to increase the value and curb appeal of his properties.
The Thompson Building, which once housed the Ciao Baby restaurant, is owned by the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, which already has redeveloped three adjoining buildings at Market Street and Fifth.
Arthur Ziegler Jr., president of the foundation, said the organization plans to restore the facade of the Thompson Building, which likely will play host to some type of restaurant, bar or cafe.
Mr. Ziegler said the building once housed a restaurant operated by the Chicago-based Thompson restaurant chain. The chain at one time had six restaurants in Pittsburgh, but the Market Square building is the only one that has survived.
It was purchased by John R. Thompson in 1926, but dates back farther than that, perhaps to the turn of the century.
“It is an important part of Pittsburgh history,” Mr. Ziegler said.
Besides restoring the exterior, the foundation will “try to meet the green standards that we’ve established down there and we want to get the building in service as soon as possible in 2011,” he said.
The foundation spent $3 million restoring the original facades of the three adjoining buildings, which house a men’s clothing store, a shoe store and apartments. It plans to make a substantial investment in the Thompson Building but also is looking for help from the URA to fill in the gap.
“We did not do that with the first three buildings. We provided the funds. We need some help with this fourth one,” Mr. Ziegler said.
Like Mr. Kashi, Mr. Ziegler believes there is a need for the type of program the URA is starting.
“I think it’s excellent. We need to continue to recognize the value of these historic buildings and improve their exteriors and their basic interiors to meet building codes,” he said.
At the site of the former McDonald’s restaurant, the city would like to remove the burnt-orange metal facade that covers the upper floors and restore the building’s original exterior.
Mr. Ziegler said that underneath the current facade the building features an attractive stone architecture. “It was a handsome corner and we would like to see it be that again,” he said.
Officials at the Order of Italian Sons and Daughters could not be reached for comment.
While the URA has targeted some real estate, any Downtown building owner interested in upgrading a property can contact the agency about possible aid, Mr. Zober said.
The city’s effort is unrelated to six acquisitions totaling $15.15 million made by an unidentified buyer on the east side of a block bordered by Wood, Fifth and Forbes over the past eight months.
While the identity of the buyer is not known, many in the real estate community believe it is PNC Financial Services Group, which built Three PNC Plaza. A PNC spokesman has said, “We don’t comment on speculation.”
There’s much talk that the block could be the site of the next big development Downtown. In the meantime, the city is hoping to fill in the cracks.
“Our goal is to really make Downtown look complete,” Mr. Zober said.
(Dec. 2) — Preservationists outside Pittsburgh are fighting to put an abandoned steel mill back to work — not so it can produce metal, but so it can protect history.
Since the blast furnaces fired up for the last time at the Carrie Furnace in 1978, the decaying steel mill on the bank of the Monongahela River has served as a solemn reminder of the industry that turned Pittsburgh into a thriving city — then left it polluted and jobless.
Now, more than three decades after the Carrie Furnace went from being a bustling workplace for 4,000 employees to a 168-acre ghost town, a team of preservationists is trying to convert the remains of the hulking factory in Rankin, Pa., into a museum dedicated to the region’s steel history.
“Pittsburgh is known for steel,” said Sherris Moreira, a spokeswoman for Rivers of Steel Heritage Corp., the group spearheading the preservation project. “There is this pride that people here have for their steel heritage — and this is a tangible way for people to connect with that history.”
Rivers of Steel hopes to preserve the remaining structures, transforming the industrial ruin into an interactive historical center inside a park.
At the heart of the proposed preservation project are the two remaining blast furnaces, which were built in 1907 and left largely unchanged until U.S. Steel halted operations at the Carrie Furnace.
The massive ovens are rare examples of pre-World War II steel-making technology — and they could make the perfect centerpiece for the proposed museum, according to Rivers of Steel curator of collections Tiffani Emig.
“They were never invested in for improvements and they were never upgraded. Everything was done by hand up until the day it closed,” Emig said. “That’s what makes them special.”
Those industrial relics — along with five other furnaces that were demolished — manufactured as much as 1,200 tons of iron per day, creating metals used in the construction of the Empire State Building and St. Louis’ Gateway Arch.
When the blast furnaces were operational, they turned ore, coke and limestone flux into a molten metal that was transported by rail across the aptly named “Hot Metal Bridge” to U.S. Steel’s Homestead Works, where it was converted into steel.
The Homestead Works were razed in 1988 and the site was converted into a shopping mall in 1999. Today, all that remains of the historic steel mill are the smokestacks, which tower over a movie theater parking lot across the river from the Carrie Furnace.
The Carrie Furnace has already been deemed a National Historic Landmark, meaning it likely won’t meet the same fate as the Homestead Works. But that doesn’t mean the site isn’t in danger.
When industry moved out, nature moved in. Tree roots have undermined the stability of some Carrie Furnace buildings, and grapevines scale the superstructure of the sprawling mill. Foxes, hawks and deer have recently been spotted on the site — and they’re not the only new visitors.
The abandoned steel mill has become a destination for graffiti artists, paintball players, vagrants and vandals who strip the site and sell the stolen scrap metal.
“The wiring and anything else that can be scrapped has been taken out,” said Emig, who told AOL News she’s often chased away uninvited visitors. “With the graffiti, the paint wears off. It’s the people who are physically stripping the site who are the problem.”
Rivers of Steel plans to restore some parts of the Carrie Furnace to look the way they did when the plant was operational. But other parts — like a massive sculpture of a deer head built from metal and wire in the 1990s by the Industrial Arts Co-Op — will remain as they are today.
“We will preserve some of the graffiti, definitely the deer,” Emig said. “This site didn’t die in 1978. This place continued to be used, and we want to show that.”
Even if Rivers of Steel gets its wish and is able to preserve the remaining steel mill structures, the rest of the 168-acre property could look very different in the coming years. Allegheny County owns the entire site and began renting the Carrie Furnace buildings to Rivers of Steel in May.
County officials are looking for builders interested in bringing light manufacturing and residential development to the rest of the grassy plot.
New businesses or homes near the old steel mill will certainly change the site’s context, but they won’t compromise the Carrie Furnace as a historic site, according to Emig.
“It’s already compromised,” she said. “There’s only two furnaces left; there used to be seven. You work with what you have.”
The most important thing the Carrie Furnace has is its historic site, according to Arthur Ziegler, president of the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation.
“We have saved artifacts from the mills — blowing engines, a Bessemer converter and so forth — but we had to relocate them,” Ziegler said. “But this will be the first time it’s all preserved on site.”
Obviously, making the dilapidated steel mill a safe destination for sightseers isn’t going to be easy — or cheap.
The group’s “bare-bones cost estimate” for the project is $78 million. Current funding only allows for repairs of a severely damaged roof at one of the powerhouses.
To fund other projects, like securing shaky catwalks, clearing out tons of debris from the mill’s stock house, or perhaps building a monorail like the one depicted in flashy conceptual images of the historic center, the group will seek public funding and private donations.
There’s talk of approaching the National Parks Service for help, but it’s unclear whether the cash-strapped agency would be interested in or able to offer assistance.
Though finances are a concern, Moreira says she’s been encouraged by the interest in the project.
“Heritage matters,” said Moreira, whose group has given tours of the Carrie Furnace to more than 700 eager visitors in the past two months. “It’s not only important to know where we come from, but it’s important looking to the future.”
In the years since the steel industry left Pittsburgh, the “Steel City” has in many ways attempted to distance itself from its metal-producing past. But the city’s industrial legacy lives on — and not just in the name of its football team and local beer.
According to Moreira, many Pittsburghers have started looking to the city’s steel-making roots as a source of pride.
“There was a lot of bitterness when the steel went away. People wanted to move on. But now people are at the point where they want to look back,” she said.
“This isn’t just steel; it’s about emotions.”
Thursday, December 09, 2010By Margaret Smykla
The public put its money where its mouth was during a public meeting last week about the future of the South Park Fairgrounds.
Everyone in the audience was given $500 in fake money to play a kind of board game, placing the “money” on an element that the player thought was a priority.
Elements receiving heavy play included removing Schoonmaker Hall, improving the oval fields/track surfaces and enhancing the park gateways.
A popular write-in item was “improving bathrooms.”
The input from this meeting, as well as another public meeting in September and focus groups and an online survey will be incorporated into a report from GAI Consultants, of Homestead, that is planned for completion at month’s end.
The study is supported by the Richard King Mellon Foundation, the Heinz Endowments and the county.
While there is no money in hand for improvements, the county is more likely to receive funding from foundations, and the state and federal governments, if a plan is in place, said county parks director Andy Baechle. There is no timetable.
The process was set in motion through a master plan created several years ago for all nine county parks. One of its recommendations was the formation of a nonprofit parks foundation to which tax-deductible donations could be made.
That done, the master plan was again addressed, such as its call for a detailed vision of the 76 county-owned acres from Corrigan Drive to McCorkle Road encompassing the Fairgrounds, exhibit hall buildings, amphitheater, police barracks, Nature Center, tennis/basketball courts, and more.
“This area has a tons of potential, but it has lagged,” said Jeaneen Zappa, the Allegheny County’s sustainability manager.
At the meeting, three options — titled “Modified,” “Campus” and “Picturesque” — were presented to solicit comments from the audience.
The “Modified” option is based on what can be done fairly easily and economically, such as removing/repairing bleachers, improving oval fields/track surfaces and enhancing park gateways.
With “Campus,” which emphasizes pedestrians, the recommendations include removing Agricultural Hall for additional parking, adding a “green” parking lot at McCorkle and Brownsville roads and reclaiming the southern end of Catfish Run.
“Picturesque” focuses on the naturalistic quality of the park’s original planning, such as reconfiguring the oval track to curvilinear shape, relocating the tennis/basketball courts and relocating the nature center adjacent to Catfish Run.
Ms. Zappa said the final report will likely include elements of all three,
Christine Fuller, executive director of the Allegheny County Parks Foundation, said the organization will review the final report and work with the county on the next steps.
After the meeting, Jeff Danchik, director of the Mon Valley Express, a drum and bugle corps which leases space from the county at Brownsville Road and Corrigan Drive, said the area needs more attractions, such as a craft shows or flea markets.
“A lot of people don’t know we’re here,” Mr. Danchik said.
Walt Sackinsky of South Park said he would like to see the infrastructure addressed, such as aging water, gas, and sewer lines, and fire hydrants.
For Terry Tressler of South Park, priorities include improvements to Corrigan Drive such as adding a middle turning lane with room on each side of the road for walkers and bikers.
His wife, Donna Tressler, would like to see Schoonmaker Hall, which is used for storage, razed. “It is falling down and dangerous, with kids going in and out,” she said.
A big priority for both is improving the bathrooms.
The couple, lifetime park users, are hopeful for change after attending both public meetings.
“I’m impressed with the caliber of people who seem to want to improve the park,” he said.