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Bellevue Streetscape Design kick-off; Active Living Workshop reports findings

Lincoln Avenue, the Main Street of Bellevue and Avalon, may soon get a makeover.  On Thursday, the Borough of Bellevue will host a Streetscape Design Kick-Off event, including a walking tour of the avenue, and a brainstorming session for planning the future of this important corridor.

The purpose of tomorrow's event is to identify, among residents and business owners, the likes and dislikes of the current streetscape, and to begin the discussion of what design elements should be incorporated into an improved Lincoln Avenue.

According to Douglas Sampler, Bellevue’s director of administrative services, the borough has applied for $450,000 in additional grants to actually implement and construct the streetscape improvements.   

But Sampler says it is an expensive process, with an average cost of $1 million per block for total streetscape renovations.  Because of that, the borough will chose one tangible goal--whether it be adding street trees, lighting, bump-outs, or park benches--and complete those tasks in the first phase.

This initiative comes on the heels of the recent Active Living Workshop, which was held in neighboring Avalon last November.  The goal of that event was to reinvent Lincoln Avenue, for both communities, as a “100% destination,” serving the needs of people of all ages and abilities.

The Walkable and Livable Communities Institute, which hosted the workshop with the AARP, published a report last week that detailed the strengths and weaknesses of the Lincoln Avenue corridor.  The report includes a walking audit and assessment of exiting conditions, mid-term recommendations, and a photo-visualization of proposed improvements to Lincoln Avenue.

The Borough of Bellevue received a $40,000 Community Development Block Grant from Allegheny County to hire a design firm and to develop the new streetscape plan.  A representative of that firm, Civil & Environmental Consultants, Inc, will facilitate tomorrow’s public meeting.

Sampler says this streetscape beautification effort shows that Bellevue is committed to developing its downtown commercial district.

“There’s not a lot of small downtowns left in this area, and we still have a vibrant one,” Sampler says.  “We can make it better, make it more attractive, not only for our current residents, but also use it as a drawing card to bring in future residents.”


On March 22nd, the Active Living Workshop will reconvene at the Avalon Public Library Conference Room, 317 South Home Avenue; 10:00 to 11:00 a.m., or 6:00 to 7:00 p.m.

The Streetscape Design Kick-Off will be held tomorrow, March 8th, at the Bellevue Municipal Building, 537 Bayne Avenue, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.


Image:  Walkable and Livable Communities Institute, Photo-Visualization: A Vision of Bellevue

Writer:  Andrew Moore
Source:  Douglas Sampler, Borough of Bellevue; Kelly Altmire, AARP

Livable communities expert Dan Burden on Avalon's Lincoln Blvd. Goal? 100% destination.

Dan Burden, executive director of the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute, conducted a workshop in Avalon on Monday about the benefits of walkable communities. The goal of the workshop is to begin reinventing Lincoln Avenue, the Main Street of Avalon and Bellevue, as a “100% destination,” serving all people of all ages.

Burden cites benefits of walkable communities as being healthier, happier places, where business districts statistically perform better economically.

“Walkable and livable communities are really the foundation for the next economy” where jobs are now going to be centered, Burden says.

Burden also says young people are increasingly finding desirable places to live first and then looking for jobs, in contrast to previous generations.

After a day of walking in the community, Burden says Bellevue and Avalon, the two communities studied, have an incredible stock of houses and apartments, good street grids, and are situated near a great city.

The workshop provided multiple examples of communities that have transformed their streets from auto-centric and dangerous to welcoming environments with a real sense of place.  Focus areas for improvement include transit, crossings, gateways, trees, creating place, and curb extensions.

Based on input from residents and others taking part, the workshop will produce a report on existing conditions, and will outline strategic action steps that can be taken to make Bellevue and Avalon into what Burden calls, “a real model for what other neighborhoods in the Pittsburgh area can become.”

The event was fully sponsored by the AARP of Pennsylvania.  AARP representative Kelly Altmire says a top priority of members is being able to age in place, and stay in their homes and communities.

Burden says when people are forced out of a neighborhood, for any reason, they tend not to live very long, or to not live very healthy.

“There’s an awareness that building livable, walkable places is not only good for the economy, it’s good for health, and good for everyone’s well-being,” Burden says.


Writer:  Andrew Moore
Source:  Dan Burden; Kelly Altmire

Bite Bistro brings affordable eclectic food to Bellevue

Duck fat fries and maple ice cream loaded with pieces of bacon are just an example of the diverse (and wonderfully delicious, from what this editor tried) menu items at Bite Bistro.

Located on Lincoln Avenue in Bellevue, Bite Bistro replaced what was Vivo, a more expensive and seemingly fancier eatery. It was time for a change, says owner Sam DiBattista. He continues that the high-end restaurant market is evolving, and a more affordable concept could work better in Bellevue.

His daughters Danina and Martina took on the task. "We want to see Bellevue in general succeed," says Martina. Opened last month, Bite Bistro is already seeing repeat customers local to Bellevue, instead of the travelling customers they saw with Vivo.

The 20-table eating area is filled with rotating art and walls of "Bistro blue." A back sitting room and the basement area complete with a stage add to the hip feel. They're always looking for entertainment gigs and are also hosting a Trivia Night. "We're trying to create an experience," says Danina. "We want the vibe to be casual and fun and easygoing."

Aside from the fries and ice cream, Sous Chef Mike Cutright produces an array of mouth-watering food. From sandwiches, soups and salads to chicken and salmon, an average dinner costs $20 to $25. The chalkboard menu changes often, depending on what's fresh and available. Nothing's from the freezer to the fryer, says Danina.

Bite Bistro is also BYOB, with a complete list of in-house mixers. They treat the artisanal soda selection as its beer menu, all of which are made with natural sugars.

Vivo will reopen in Sewickley this May. Bite Bistro is open Tuesday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. (extended to 11 p.m. on Friday) and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

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Writer: Alex Audia
Source: Sam, Martina and Danina DiBattista, Bite Bistro

Photograph copyright Alex Audia

Springboard Kitchens partners with Life's Work for food service training facility

Lutheran Service Society of Western Pennsylvania (LSSWPA) and Life’s Work have partnered to help individuals with barriers to employment achieve independence and self-sufficiency.

LSSWPA launched its Springboard Kitchens project in February in small, temporary quarters in Miryam’s, a Downtown woman’s shelter owned and operated by Bethlehem Haven. In early May, Springboard settled into its permanent location on the first floor of the Life’s Work building, 1323 Forbes Ave., also Downtown

Springboard Kitchens, modeled after Seattle’s FareStart, is a food service-based training program for people with barriers to employment, such as bouncing back from homelessness, incarceration or drug or alcohol abuse. It is supported by revenues earned by contract, retail and catering sales.

Currently, five students are enrolled in the fulltime, four-month curriculum, but Jennifer Flanagan with LSSWPA hopes the new location means as many as 12 can be enrolled at any given time.

“It’s a much larger kitchen, which allows us to bring in more contracts, which means we can bring in more students,” says Flanagan. “We hope to get to the point where we have enough contracts to cover the cost of the program without outside funding.”

The 2,000-square foot facility includes equipment such as ovens, griddles, burners and walk-in coolers, as well as a classroom and locker rooms. Springboard has also been given control of the Life’s Work cafeteria. Other contracts include Bethlehem Haven’s three Downtown shelters, POWER recovery program’s inpatient and outpatient locations, and New Horizons, a mental health drop-in center in Bellevue.

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Writer: Caralyn Green
Source: Jennifer Flanagan, chief business development officer, LSSWPA

Photograph copyright Brian Cohen

Muddy Cup: building community through coffee in Bellevue

Renee Tokar has a passion for coffee. Working in operations for Starbucks, she says she fell in love with the process that brings coffee from the tree to the table. “But I’ve never been a corporate person,” Tokar says. “I wanted my own place where I could express myself and have fun at work.”

She made the decision to open a coffeehouse in 2008, and found a good location at 541 Lincoln Ave. in Bellevue, owned by Joe Porco of Lincoln Bakery. She said that although she wasn’t able to lease the site right away, Porco held it for her, turning away several other offers. With the help of family and friends she readied the space, and in October the Muddy Cup opened.

Tokar says she wants to reach out beyond the usual coffeeshop crowd. “We don’t want to have just people on laptops and coffee diehards,” she says. “We want everyone to come. Families, elderly, young professionals, straight, gay- it’s an open door.”

In addition to drinks, Muddy Cup sells prepared salads, sandwiches, and soup, and muffins and giant cookies from Lincoln bakery. She is planning a possible open mic poetry night and a Sunday Tea. “We’re new, so we’re still seeing what works,” says Tokar.

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Writer: Rob Cullen
Source: Renee Tokar, owner of Muddy Cup

Photograph copyright Brian Cohen

Creative TreeHouse gets new leader and looks for new home

Jesse Hambley founded the Creative TreeHouse as a place to support local artists and spur neighborhood revitalization. Its short but successful stint in Bellevue ended last October when issues with the property led him to leave the space and rethink the project’s concept and location. After relocating to Los Angeles for a job with the nonprofit Liberty in North Korea, Hambley also started looking for someone to take over. 

 “John is a great fit with his ties to the creative community here in Pittsburgh and his history of business development,” says Hambley of John LeDonne, creative director of LeDonne Creative.

Rather than go the route of nonprofit, LeDonne plans to capitalize on his 17 years of experience in marketing and create a business plan for the Creative TreeHouse based on corporate sponsorship.

“I’m working with the tagline - Learn, Explore, Become. Members can learn through presentations, explore through classes and become what ever kind of artist they want to be,” says LeDonne. “I’m currently looking for financial and creative partners. Adobe has shown some initial interest and I’ve been talking with Bill Peduto among others about potential locations in Bloomfield and throughout the city,” says LeDonne.

“The Creative TreeHouse is the perfect example of what we’re looking for in Bloomfield. What we now have here are the two blue hairs – older women with tinted blue hair living next to young people with blue Mohawks," says Councilman Bill Peduto. "The new economy is spreading out from Oakland and Bloomfield is capitalizing on that.”

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Writer: Lauren Urbschat
Sources: Jesse Hambley, Founder, Creative TreeHouse
John LeDonne, Creative Director, LeDonne Creative & Councilman Bill Peduto

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