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County to provide aid to business owners outside Pittsburgh

By Justin Vellucci
Wednesday, September 12, 2007

When Karen Larson opened Hometowne Tavern in Swissvale five years ago, bankers hardly gave her the time of day.

“We couldn’t get a loan for any part of our business,” said Larson, 52, of Swissvale, who owns the commercial building where the tavern she owns with her husband is based. “When it came to getting our business going, we were really on our own.”

Not anymore.

Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato announced a program Tuesday that will provide grants, tax abatements and no-interest loans to business owners looking to revitalize 43 local business districts outside Pittsburgh. The program — dubbed Allegheny Together — will begin in Swissvale, Tarentum, Stowe and Elizabeth Borough, and also help those hit hardest by the remnants of Hurricane Ivan in 2004.

“The big projects get all the attention through the media … and they’re needed and they help,” Onorato told an audience packed into Swissvale’s municipal building yesterday. “But we also wanted to make it clear we understand the benefits of small businesses.”

The county plans to commit $500,000 to $1 million a year to the program, which officials said could provide $1 million to $1.5 million in funding each year. Foundations have pledged an additional $500,000. Officials plan to seek about $500,000 from the state.

“What we all already know is we have 43 community (business districts), all historic,” said Arthur P. Ziegler, Jr., president of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation. “We look on Main Street as a real estate development, just the way they look at a mall as a real estate development out in the suburbs.”

In those 43 communities, eligible property and business owners can be covered for up to 60 percent of total project costs or $50,000, whichever is less, county officials said. Half the money will come as a grant, and the other half as a zero-interest loan payable over a maximum of seven years.

Some of the work covered by the program includes improving facades and sidewalks, correcting code deficiencies, erecting signs for businesses, and improving accessibility to businesses for the disabled, county officials said. A display showing potential changes to Swissvale’s business district was shown yesterday.

Residents could start to see improvements made through the program in six months to a year, said Dennis Davin, the county’s director of economic development.

Local officials celebrated the program for its specific benefits, as well as the message of support it carries.

“It’s something we’ve been waiting for for years and years,” Swissvale Mayor Deneen Swartzwelder said. “This is an amazing opportunity for us. And we promise not to let you down.”

For more information on the Allegheny Together program, call 412-350-1000.

Justin Vellucci can be reached at or 412-320-7847

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Phone: 412-471-5808  |  Fax: 412-471-1633