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Downtown Wilkinsburg awarded Main Street designation

Since 2008, the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation has been working toward a Main Street designation through the Pennsylvania Department of Economic and Community Development and Pennsylvania Downtown Center’s Main Street Program. Last week, Wilkinsburg was accepted into the prestigious program.
 
Since the WCDC’s office officially opened in 2010, 33 business district properties have sold, 10 vacant storefronts have been filled and 22 vacant properties have become viable homes or commercial properties through the Vacant Property Recovery Program.
 
The WCDC has worked to clean up and improve Wilkinsburg’s streetscapes and image by installing banners and litter receptacles, refurbishing lampposts and planting more than 100 trees and plants throughout the business district.
 
“We are thrilled to have been selected for Main Street designation by the PA Department of Community and Economic Development and the PA Downtown Center," said WCDC Executive Director Tracey Evans. "The WCDC was formed in 2008 to revitalize our business district and we have been following the Main Street Approach from the beginningThanks to the dedication and commitment of our residents, business owners, community stakeholders and government officials, the Wilkinsburg Business District has made tremendous progress.” 
 
According to the WCDC, Wilkinsburg has all of the ingredients for a successful Main Street Program: a traditional business district, a core of strong businesses, and historic building stock. Wilkinsburg’s strategic location along Penn Avenue and the East Busway makes the borough the next location for economic and transit-oriented development along the Penn Avenue Corridor, Evans explained.
 
Acceptance into the Main Street Program will provide Wilkinsburg with more financial and technical resources. Wilkinsburg businesses located within the designated downtown area will be eligible to apply for Enterprise Zone Tax Credits through the Neighborhood Assistance Program; Wilkinsburg will be eligible to apply for and receive façade grants and other funding; and Wilkinsburg stakeholders will be able to network and collaborate with other Pennsylvania Regional Main Street grantees, among other benefits.
 
Through the state’s Neighborhood Partnership Program, the WCDC has already hired a full-time Economic Development Program Coordinator to oversee the Main Street Program and attend training sessions in Harrisburg to ensure its success.
 
“This award is an excellent beginning to 2015; we have a number of exciting projects including restoration of the Wilkinsburg Train Station, plans for the former Penn-Lincoln Hotel site and campaigns to promote and support our businesses. We are grateful for the opportunities and resources that this designation brings to our community, which will improve the quality of life for those who live and work in Wilkinsburg,” Evans said.

Evans added that improving the historic Wilkinsburg Train Station is top priority in 2015. The train station is located along the Busway and would ideally be utilized as a business district bus station -- between the Wilkinsburg and Hamnett stops -- not a train stop. Evans said 27,000 cars drive on Penn Avenue daily; the redevelopment of the train station would be a valuable resource as well as a win for historic preservation.
 
She said she hopes to build on the trend of new food businesses and restaurants in downtown Wilkinsburg, which is a dry community. A possible liquor license referendum in the future could bolster restaurant business, Evans said.
 
 
Source: WCDC, Tracey Evans, Marlee Gallagher

34th & Carson office space offers new construction on a smaller scale

Want to create a brand-new office space with views of the Monongahela River and the Steelers? Avison Young, a Toronto-headquartered commercial real estate services firm, may have an opportunity for you on the South Side.
 
Avison Young’s Pittsburgh office announced earlier this week that it has been named the exclusive leasing agent for the 34th & Carson office development. Located at 34th and East Carson streets, the site overlooks the University of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Steelers football teams’ practice fields.
 
“If you happen to be a football fanatic, you can stand out on the balcony and watch them practice,” joked David Auel, Avison Young vice-president in the Pittsburgh office.
 
Leasing efforts for 34th & Carson are assigned to Auel and Ed Sauer, an Avison Young associate.
 
Currently under construction, the 31,000-square-foot, four-story office building will be the second Carson Street project from FirstSite Development, LLC. The firm previously developed 3447 East Carson Street, home to Matcon Diamond and Propel Charter Schools.
 
Auel believes that 34th & Carson will be well-received in the current market. He said Avison Young estimates that rates will be between $21 and $24 per square foot, with full-service leasing, including utilities.
 
“Newly constructed office space within and around Pittsburgh continues to enjoy a high level of occupancy,” Auel said. “Given the convenient location and access near the Hot Metal Bridge, coupled with free on-site parking, we believe that we will see strong demand from users wanting proximity to Downtown and university areas. Efficient floor plans on a smaller scale, subdividable down to 2,200 square foot, allow us to service a wide variety of business needs. The east elevation will have balconies overlooking the Monongahela River, Three Rivers Heritage Trail and the practice fields used by both Pitt and the Steelers.”
 
Auel added that the lot will be able to accommodate about 80 cars. He said the location is also attractive as it circumvents Downtown traffic and provides an opportunity for small businesses to get into new office space in the South Side.
 
“I think that we are offering a very unique opportunity,” Auel said. He explained that many new South Side buildings are occupied by larger companies like UPMC and American Eagle Outfitters. “So, this is a situation for someone who has a typical small business office [to get into] new construction.”
 
Construction is expected to be completed fall 2015, with occupancy available to tenants at the same time.
 
Source: David Auel, Avison Young

CMU alumni launch Greek yogurt brand Naturi in Pittsburgh

Greek yogurt is everywhere these days. But some companies offering Greek-style yogurt often sneak in a lot of hidden sugar and other additives. Brand-new Pittsburgh company Naturi Organics promises that its Greek yogurt is made naturally with local and organic ingredients. 
 
Naturi is the brainchild of Aditya Dhere, Anes Dracic and Jennifer Mrzlack, graduates of the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University. For 2014 grads Dhere and Dracic, Naturi started as a final graduate school project. Mrzlack, a 2010 Tepper alumna, brought her food experience -- after three years at Heinz -- to the team in July.

Mrzlack said Dhere, an American-born Indian, and Dracic, a Bosnian refugee who moved to the United States as a child, both had mothers who made yogurt at home. She added that Dracic’s family had a farm in Bosnia and that his mother sold yogurt from a cart.
 
Mrzlack also made yogurt and applesauce for her young sons, which sparked her passion for natural, healthy ingredients.
 
On Jan. 12, Naturi hit the shelves at 48 local businesses with more retailers in the works. Distributors are Paragon, Frankferd Farms and Clarion River Organics.
 
In addition to serving both the Google and American Eagle Outfitters campuses, Naturi customers include the Fairmont Hotel, Hotel Monaco, Marty’s Market, the East End Food Co-op, McGinnis Sisters, Espresso A Mano, 21st Street Coffee and Tea, Coffee Tree Roasters, the Duquesne Club, Feast on Brilliant, Red Oak Café, DJ Butcher Block, Tula Organic Salon and Spa, Today’s Market, Sewickley Confectionary -- which provides home delivery -- and more. Strip District hot spots Bar Marco and Wigle Whiskey will offer Naturi-made items.
 
“I cant say it enough,” Mrzlack began, “I [really] want to thank the Pittsburgh community … Everyone has been so supportive.”
 
Naturi, Mrzlack explained, is committed to flavorful Greek-style yogurt with clean, organic ingredients and low sugar. The yogurt is produced at Sunrise Family Farms, an organic farm in upstate New York.
 
While Naturi is committed to keeping a small carbon footprint (many ingredients are sourced within three miles of Sunrise farms), the brand also packs flavors with a “worldly” punch.
 
The initial flavors include Pure (plain), Seedless Raspberry, Coffee + Chicory and Indonesian Vanilla + Saigon Cinnamon. These natural flavors need little added sugar, Mrzlack explained. She said raspberry is naturally sweetened with real fruit, the chicory gives the coffee yogurt a chocolate feel and vanilla and cinnamon are innately rich in flavor.
 
Naturi operates out of the Birchmere Ventures offices in the Strip District above 21st Street Coffee. On Saturday, the new company is getting to know its Strip District neighbors. From noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Naturi will be at the Organically Social booth in the Pittsburgh Public Market doing a public meet-and-greet event.
 
Source: Jennifer Mrzlack, www.naturi.com
 

Local architecture firm honored for design of sustainable Haitian community center

Mike Gwin, architect and principal at Strip District architectural firm Rothschild Doyno Collaborative, led a design project to build a community center in Haiti following the devastating 2010 earthquake.
 
The Sant Lespwa Center of Hope, in Hinche, Haiti, recently won Rothschild Doyno an American Institute of Architects’ national honor award for buildings.
 
”Last Friday, the 2015 AIA National Architecture Honor Awards were announced and the Center of Hope project in Haiti that we designed with World Vision was selected,” Gwin said in an email to Pop City. “This is the first time since 1999 that a Pittsburgh office has won a national AIA honor award for architecture on their own. It is a rare honor for our local art and design community.”
 
World Vision is an international resource organization that previously worked with the local architecture firm to build a distribution center in Sewickley. For the Sant Lespwa Center, the organization envisioned a community center that would provide educational resources and job training to aid the city’s economy.
 
Today, the 5,000-square-foot facility does just that. Gwin said the center offers classes teaching vocational skills, library resources with books and Internet access and recreation with a soccer field and music and art resources.
 
When working on an international project, Gwin said it's essential to visit in order to implement local nuances into design. He said his trip to Haiti helped the building come together in a way that was natural to the community.
 
The center was built around a tree grove, which was the natural gathering space for the community of 50,000. Gwin said they also executed design that reflected local heritage. The area is known for crafting baskets, hats and other goods from palm thatch. Local crafters created palm thatch awnings and other items for the building.
 
Gwin said more than 100 locals assisted in the construction. It instilled a sense of “shared ownership,” he said.
 
The Sant Lespwa Center of Hope is off the grid, Gwin explained, which means that there are no utility connections for water, electricity or sewage. “So, the building had to be self-sufficient,” he said.
 
Rothschild Doyno designed a butterfly roof to collect rainwater through chains into an underground cistern. He said the underground tank had enough room to provide for a year’s supply of water. Overflow was designed to navigate into planter areas.
 
The solar-powered building also supplies power to batteries in the building, which are used to purify water. Before this system, Gwin said the people of Hinche would have to walk miles to get water.
 
The building also does not have mechanical utility connections, so there is no heating and cooling. The shape of the roof works to draw breeze into the building, as does the site’s shady location among the grove.
 
Rothschild Doyno was among 11 winners out of 300 applicants for the competitive AIA award. Bohlin Cywinski Jackson was the last Pittsburgh firm to win in 1999 for the Robert L. Pregar Intelligent Workplace at Carnegie Mellon University.
 
“It’s a very rare award to receive … So, you don’t ever think that you’re going to,” Gwin joked. He then added, “It’s great to have our local [design] scene reach that national stage.”
 
 
Source: Mike Gwin, Rothschild Doyno Collaborative
 

Big Day transforms to suit developing Upper Strip District

Driving down Penn Avenue in the Strip District, one couldn’t miss Big Day Wedding and Event Center at 26th Street. The white building was designed to look like a tiered wedding cake -- topped with life-sized bride and groom statues.
 
Building and business owner Sal Richetti has transformed the space into 26th Street Market and Café, currently in its soft opening with a grand opening planned in March. Out with the statuesque couple, and in with orange and green trim.
 
'The wedding business is more Internet-driven now,' Richetti said about his decision to transform the space. Big Day Entertainmnet, Video and Photography still operates online and on the second floor of the building at 2549 Penn Ave., and Celebrity Bridal Boutique is open by appointment on the first floor.
 
Richetti said 26th Street will fill a niche in the developing Upper Strip District. He said the current model is Starbucks meets Sheetz, without the gas. The café currently offers a self-serve coffee bar, Nicholas Coffee Co. products, lunch options like soups, salads and sandwiches, convenience goods from candy and snacks to cigarettes, co-working meeting spaces, a cozy café area and free wi-fi. The two meeting rooms, which can host six and 10 people, are currently available by appointment at (412) 566-2889.
 
After the grand opening in March, the space will provide grab-and-go lunches, an array of hot sandwiches like paninis and hoagies, smoothies, breakfast and specialty coffee drinks from espresso to lattes to iced coffee.  The spring will also bring outdoor seating and an al fresco atmosphere as the café features a garage door, which can open up the café on sunny days.
 
As more condominiums open at this end of the neighborhood, the space fits several needs in the growing neighborhood including convenience store products and business space, according to Vicki McGregor, manager of 26th Street Market and Cafe and Richetti's sister.
 
McGregor said residents need more eateries and businesses to provide convenience goods.
 
Richetti, who has owned the 26th and Penn building for more than a decade, said increased neighborhood foot traffic influenced the building’s renovation.
 
“I bought this building in 2001," Richetti said. "[Today,] I just see so much more walk-by traffic." 
 
Both Richetti and McGregor commented on the Strip’s expansion toward Lawrenceville.
 
“[The Strip] is expanding toward Lawrenceville and Lawrenceville is expanding down [toward the Strip],” McGregor said, as she gestured with her two hands, one representing each neighborhood, an eventual meeting.

 
Source: Sal Richetti and Vicki McGregor

PHDA, Inc. receives subsidies grant for first-time homebuyers

First-time home buyers with low to moderate incomes can apply for help with down payments and closing costs, thanks to a grant program available from the Pittsburgh Housing Development Association, Inc.

PHDA, Inc. recently secured funding from the Wells Fargo Housing Foundation to support the First-Time Home Buyers Subsidy Grant Program for an additional year. Launched in 2014, the program assists eligible, first-time home buyers with down payments and/or closing costs.
 
The grant will be dispersed through an application process. To be eligible, applicants must have an assigned contract on a specific property, be first-time homebuyers, meet income eligibility guidelines and complete a certified Home Counseling Program.
 
“The grant is available to any qualified and eligible first-time homebuyer,” said Greg Whitted, PHDA, Inc. executive director and co-founder, about the Wilkinsburg-focused organization. PHDA, Inc. was formed in 1982 with a mission to assist low to moderate income first-time home buyers with educational workshops and resources to achieve their dream of homeownership. 
 
Whitted said the grant can be used on any Pittsburgh home, but added that Wilkinsburg has a lot of home ownership opportunities.
 
“[Wilkinsburg] is an up-and-coming community,” he said. “The housing stock is strong there.”
 
Funding for the grant program was provided in part by a grant from the national Wells Fargo Housing Foundation, which provides funding to assist nonprofit community organizations in achieving and sustaining their missions through strategic leadership in servicing low-wealth communities.
 
Applications are currently available.  Interested applicants should email info@phdainc.org or call (412) 242-2700 for additional information and an application.
 
Source: Greg Whitted, PHDA, Inc.

Convenience store opens in Public Market for Strip residents and shoppers

Living in the Strip District, one has access to some of the finest local and international goods, from Penn Mac cheese to Mon Aimee Chocolate to Wigle Whiskey. The list could go on and on.

But despite the abundance of little luxuries and ethnic varieties, neighborhood residents lacked access to things like toilet paper and paper towels — until Mike Bregman opened a new kind of convenience store for Strip dwellers in the Pittsburgh Public Market.
 
Within the microcosm of the Pittsburgh Public Market, patrons peruse handmade goods, fill growlers of East End brew and grab goodies at Eliza’s Oven. And now, among the local and organic selections, the Public Market offers Bregman’s Bull Dawg’s mini mart for Strip District shoppers.
 
The mini mart offers all-natural hot dogs for $2, Coke products, Gatorade, Red Bull, toiletries and other conveniences.

Before opening the Public Market shop, Bregman said he walked from 25th Street to 11th Street and noticed there wasn’t a convenience store selling things like chips, soda or toilet paper for Strip neighbors.
 
“In a year from now, there’s going to be more than 3,000 people living in these condos,” said Bregman, a University of Georgia alum with the nickname Bulldog. Bregman cited the current condominiums under construction in the neighborhood and other recent development in the Strip.
 
The shop's hot dogs are locally sourced and handmade at DJ’s Butcher Block in Bloomfield, Bregman said.
 
“I’d like to feed the people for lunch and I’d like the residents to know about the toiletries,” Bregman said about his business within the Public Market.
 
He added that he would love feedback from Strip District residents about the kinds of soap, hygiene products and toiletries they would like to see in his shop -- for their convenience.
 
Source: Mike Bregman
 

Hotel Monaco's The Commoner to open Downtown with a grab-and-go café

For a quick bite or a full-on dining experience, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants offers pub fare with a Pittsburgh twist for hungry downtown diners.
 
Kimpton will open its first Pittsburgh restaurant, The Commoner, adjacent to the new Hotel Monaco Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Jan. 20. The 120-seat restaurant will feature American classics with a modern flair, a wood-burning oven and an extensive craft beer list.
 
In a rush? Try The Commoner’s grab-and-go café The Commoner Corner. This sidewalk café and smoked meat carvery will serve breakfast and lunch and features a large service window on Strawberry Way for customers on the go.
 
"We've been working hard to perfect our menu and develop relationships with local farmers to highlight the best of the Allegheny region," said Executive Chef Dennis Marron. "The Pittsburgh dining scene is really making a name for itself, and I'm excited to bring my take on European pub fare and American classics to the table. The menu and vibe we've created here is going to be a hit with everyone -- from downtown professionals to sports fans and theater-goers to hotel guests."
 
Chef Marron's menus will offer American tavern classics with Old World influences and regional produce. The onion soup burger, steak and ale pie (braised with local East End Brown Ale) and brick chicken are just a few examples where pub style meets Pittsburgh flavor. Pennsylvania-grown and seasonal products, like PA Noble cave-aged cheddar, Castle Valley Mills cornmeal, Starr Valley Farms beef and Elysian Fields lamb, will be highlights in many dishes, like the cheddar board, PA burger and braised lamb shank.
 
“We’re a modern American tavern located in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh,” said The Commoner General Manager Matthew Rafferty. He added that the restaurant will focus on drafts and “slow-roasted and braised meats.”
 
The dinner menu will prominently feature an array of dishes from the kitchen's central wood-burning oven. With wood-fired dishes ranging from appetizers to main courses, diners will be able to choose from broccoli-cheddar flatbread to herb-rubbed bone marrow to charred cauliflower with sage-walnut pesto, among other smoky, rustic favorites.
 
Breakfast at The Commoner will have something for everyone, including lighter options like baked egg whites with kale, oven-dried tomatoes and zucchini, and heartier offerings like Irish soda bread, French toast with Chantilly cream and whiskey barrel-aged maple syrup.
 
At the bar, lead bartender Joshua Holliday will oversee a robust cocktail and spirits menu and a locally driven craft beer list anchored by 12 draft lines and 50 bottles and cans, including local selections like Church Brew Works' Thunderhop Extreme Double IPA and Voodoo Brewing Company's KillaPilz.
 
The wine list will feature six wines on tap, guided by Kimpton’s Master Sommelier Emily Wines. Holliday has worked closely with Chef Marron and Rafferty to create inventive cocktails, including a barrel-aged negroni and an old-fashioned, with house-made syrup and BBQ bitters.
 
The Commoner Corner’s menu will feature items that are unfussy and ideal for diners on the go. Breakfast will include a range of freshly baked pastries, croissant sandwiches, fresh-pressed juices and smoothies and artisanal coffee beverages. Lunch will feature hot sandwiches with house-smoked, hand-carved beef, turkey and portabella mushrooms and a variety of fixings. Save time and room for milkshakes and floats.
 
The Commoner, at 458 Strawberry Way, will be open seven days a week for breakfast and dinner starting January 20. The restaurant begins lunch service Feb. 3 and kicks off its Saturday and Sunday brunch on Feb. 21. The Commoner Corner will serve weekday breakfast and lunch beginning Jan. 20.
 
Full menus and information will be available at www.thecommonerpgh.com.
 
 
Source: Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, Justin Rude, Matthew Rafferty
 

Pop-up chocolate shop keeps mouths watering in Shadyside

Just before Christmas, Chocolate! featuring Jacques Torres Chocolate, a pop-up shop in Shadyside, opened its doors boasting holiday goodies. But this pop-up hasn't disappeared into the night. Chocolate! featuring Jacques Torres Chocolate will continue to see Pittsburgh through all the big chocolate holidays: Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter.
 
The seasonal chocolate emporium was launched by Pittsburgh native Lissa Guttman, who recently moved back to Pittsburgh after a 10-year stint in New York City. While there, she worked with award-winning pastry chef and Food Network personality Jacques Torres to launch a line of highly successful chocolate boutiques in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
 
“I loved the food scene in New York, but I missed the soulfulness of Pittsburgh,” Guttman said. “So, I decided to fuse the two. I also love the idea of creating whimsical shopping experiences -- unexpected retail destinations that last for a season or two, but create fun moments and leave customers craving the next incarnation.”
 
Guttman said she wanted to bring her love for chocolate and Jacques Torres quality products back to her hometown. She added that Torres was excited to expand his brand beyond New York -- Pittsburgh is the first city outside New York to carry the line. Guttman said Pittsburgh has proven to be a great market for premium goods.
 
The store’s mouth-watering offerings range from holiday favorites to exotic creations like chipotle-infused “wicked hot chocolate.” Guttman said products also range from kid-friendly to adult-friendly, including chocolate-covered cereals and nuts to chocolate ginger.
 
“Everything is chocolate,” she said of the "here today, gone tomorrow" shop featuring both large edible gifts and snacks.
 
Guttman added that the pop-up model was used at all eight of Torres’ New York chocolate stores. She said her seasonal shop could grow into something more.
 
“I could see myself doing a lot more of these in various neighborhoods or on trucks,” Guttman said, adding that, for the time being, she is focused on getting to know Shadyside.
 
Chocolate! featuring Jacques Torres Chocolate will remain open through Easter at 813 Copeland Way.
 
 
Source: Lissa Guttman

Frick Park's "Stink Creek" cleanup is national model for waterway restoration

A study by a University of Pittsburgh hydrologist shows that a local project is one of the largest urban-stream restorations in the United States and has led to the recovery of fish and, more importantly, a groundswell of local support.
 
Pittsburgh’s Frick Park is home to Nine Mile Run, a stream formerly known as "Stink Creek." From 2003 to 2006, the City of Pittsburgh and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers poured $7.7 million into restoring 2.2 miles of the stream and tributaries into waterways approximating what they were prior to urban development. The project remains one of the largest urban-stream restorations undertaken in the United States.

Dan Bain, Pitt assistant professor of hydrology and metal biogeochemistry in the Department of Geology and Planetary Science within the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, says the project has made a difference and sets an example for other cities to follow. The evidence is tallied in Bain’s paper, "Characterizing a Major Urban Stream Restoration Project: Nine Mile Run," published last month in the Journal of the American Water Resources Association.

Nine Mile Run, which is part of a watershed that drains 6.5 square miles of Wilkinsburg, Edgewood, Swissvale, Forest Hills, Squirrel Hill and Point Breeze, had been abused by urbanization and industrialization. Toxins leached into the creek from a slag heap left over from the steelmaking process, sewer lines discharged into the water and so much of the waterway had been buried in culverts or diverted from its natural path that Nine Mile Run had become toxic.
 
The three-year restoration project involved rerouting the creek to a natural pathway, reestablishing flora, creating areas to catch floodwater and building natural "slash piles" and "snags" from cut-down trees to create bird and animal habitats. It also involved infrastructure interventions: adding rain barrels to residents' homes, preventing some storm water from overwhelming the stream and fixing parts of the underlying sewers.
 
Some of the impediments remain, but neighbors and Frick Park users have been motivated to continue the work. This support has been imperative to restoration.
 
“What we found is that, properly done, urban-stream restoration can create a citizen involvement in the process of appropriately managing urban streams and give us a greater opportunity to understand how restorations work in an urban system, particularly when compared with our ability to understand restoration success in less populated areas,” Bain said.

In his paper, Bain reports that fish populations are improving. However, the human response to this restoration has been vigorous -- the rise in the number of volunteer hours as well as the number of rain barrels installed at private residences appears to be associated with the restoration of the stream.
 
Those inspired by the improving health of the stream have enlisted as volunteer Urban EcoStewards with the Nine Mile Run Watershed Association, a nonprofit that advocates for and monitors the area. These EcoStewards visit an assigned plot on a regular basis to remove invasive species, plant native flora, clean up trash and install rain barrels on their property to reduce runoff and slow erosion.
 
Source: University of Pittsburgh
 

Council member introduces sidewalk reimbursement plan

Pittsburgh City Council Member Darlene M. Harris (D-District 1) introduced legislation last week that could be a step toward a more pedestrian-friendly Pittsburgh.
 
The legislation would update the city’s policy for paying out city sidewalk damages caused by trees. The city currently reimburses city property owners $4.00 per square foot. Harris’ legislation would increase that amount to $8.00 per square foot.
 
According to a release from Harris’ office, the city has not increased reimbursement for tree root damage for at least 20 years.
 
“No one can recall exactly when that amount ($4.00 a square foot) had been set," Harris said. "With inflation, that original value has been cut in half. It is only fair that that there is a readjustment. It might also motivate people to make needed sidewalk repairs.”
 
The new legislation also authorizes the city solicitor to recalculate the reimbursement amount every four years based upon the consumer price index.
 
The legislation states: “Beginning on January 1, 2015, the City Solicitor shall, every four years, adjust the amount of compensation provided for sidewalk damage claims based upon the United States Department of Labor’s, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Consumer Price Index for Pittsburgh. The percentage of increase/decrease in the Pittsburgh CPI shall be the percent of the increase/decrease in compensation provided.”
                                                          
The city solicitor would provide notice to city council of any adjustment made to the amount provided for sidewalk damage claims.
 
“That would keep the Council from having to revisit this matter every few years or so," Harris said. "It is good housekeeping. Right now, the city is only covering 20% of the replacement. This legislation would make it 40% reimbursement. That’s about what it was when the $4 number was set decades ago.”

At $20 per square foot, local contractors estimate that it costs about $500 to replace one five-square-foot sidewalk slab, according to Harris. An increase in the Law Department’s 2015 judgment account would be sufficient to absorb this cost.
 
Source: Office of Pittsburgh City Council Member Darlene M. Harris
 

Tour de Penn shopping program circumvents the "Penn detour"

The multimillion-dollar Penn Avenue reconstruction project has been a detriment to the Bloomfield and Garfield communities where the one-way detour has inhibited traffic and hidden local shops behind barricades.
 
“Our businesses have suffered pretty substantially during this process,” said Amber Epps, Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation commercial district manager.  “[We’re] trying to get some business back to Penn Avenue.”
 
But the BGC, with help from the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh, is working with businesses to bring foot traffic back to the impeded mom-and-pop shops between Mathilda and Evaline streets along Penn Avenue.
 
The URA-sponsored “Biz Buzz” program Tour de Penn -- a play on “Penn detour” -- kicked off on Dec. 6 and will run through the holidays until Feb. 14, 2015. Patrons who visit construction-affected businesses along Penn Avenue can receive rewards.
 
To participate, pick up a map and attached passport at businesses outside the construction zone. This neighborhood passport is the ticket for participants to win “Penn Bucks” or gift cards to participating Penn Avenue businesses.
 
Visitors can receive one passport stamp just for stopping in at businesses within the construction zone. Make a purchase of $5 or more at these businesses and get an extra stamp.
 
Participants who earn 10 stamps will be entered into a weekly raffle for a $25 gift card; those earning 20 or more stamps will be entered into a $50 gift card raffle. Each week, four gift cards will be raffled off. They can be used at any business on Penn Avenue between Mathilda Street and Negley Avenue.
 
Epps recommends holiday shoppers head to businesses including Mostly Mod & ARTica Gallery, Most Wanted Fine Art, Modern Formations gallery, Verde Mexican Kitchen and Cantina, Robin’s Nest and the Pittsburgh Glass Center for passport stamps and gift-giving ideas.
 
Two-way traffic is expected to return at the end of December, Epps said, explaining that construction will continue in the spring with sidewalk and landscaping improvements that are projected to be completed July 31, 2015.
 
Tour de Penn visitors are also encouraged to use social media, posting images with hashtags #tourdepenn and #proudtobepenn. Visit www.pennavenue.org for more information, as well as to find out which business will be highlighted each week -- shopping at highlighted businesses will earn an extra stamp.
 
Source: Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation, Amber Epps 

God rest ye merry, gentlemen: Hit up Manta Claus for a night of manly holiday shopping

When it comes to holiday shopping, are you man enough?
 
Manta Claus is back on Butler Street this year to prove to men --  and women -- that holiday shopping doesn’t have to be about braving the mall or fighting crowds. In fact, it can be a fun, local experience.
 
In 2011, a group of Lawrenceville businesses started Manta Claus, a last-minute holiday shopping extravaganza for men (and, let’s face it, anyone) who put off holiday gift purchasing. The last last-minute shopping event returns to Lawrenceville from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 18.
 
“[It’s] more or less a way to coerce men to come out and shop local,” said Pageboy Salon & Boutique owner Dana Bannon about the holiday event.
 
She added that Manta Claus started as a solution for men who shop impersonally online, grab a gift card or avoid the mall.  Bannon added that Lawrenceville businesses participating in Manta Claus also promise to help shoppers find the perfect gift.
 
And, just as Butler Street has grown, so has the holiday shopping event. Businesses up and down Butler Street will be offering free drinks, snacks, no-cost gift-wrapping and lots of great gift guidance.
 
Additionally, food trucks will be parked near 45th Street. Hitchhiker Brewing will be on hand at Pageboy Salon & Boutique to offer tastings of winter beers. And Leona’s Ice Cream Sandwiches will also be handing out treats at Pageboy.
 
Pageboy (3613 Butler St.) will also offer 10% off men's and women's grooming products, $25 gift certificates for $20 and free beard trims by a student barber. Divertido (3609 Butler St.) will offer 10% off all purchases, free snacks and beer. Jules (4502 Butler St.) will feature 10% off all menswear, plus $25 credit for every $100 spent. Jupe (3703 Butler St.) will be offering $10 off every $40 spent. Mid-Atlantic Mercantile (4415 Butler St.) will also give 10% off all purchases. Mister Grooming & Goods (4504 Butler St.) will offer 10% off grooming products. Atlas Bottle Works (4115 Butler St.) will host a holiday beer tasting. Pavement (3629 Butler St.) will provide snacks, free gift-wrapping and specials. And, Matthew Buchholz will be signing his book "Alternate Histories of the World” at Wildcard
 
Garbella Studio (5202 Carnegie St., one block off Butler and 52nd streets) will be open to the public, providing refreshments and complimentary gift-wrapping. An open house studio at Perry And Co. (5212 Butler St.) will feature FareFeathers Jewelry and 25% off -- shoppers are also welcome to enjoy their fireplace overlooking Butler with free drinks.
 
“This is the first year that we’ve had more than two or three of us … and it’s amazing the amount of camaraderie we have between businesses,” Bannon said. 
 
She added that as Butler Street has expanded, she has been pleasantly surprised by the amount of community that she still feels. Instead of competing salons and retailers, she says, Lawrenceville remains a friendly network of small businesses.
 
 
Source: Matthew Buchholz, Dana Bannon 

Maggie's Farm Rum celebrates accolades after one year in business

On the heels of its one-year anniversary, local distillery Maggie’s Farm Rum is celebrating multiple business milestones.

Allegheny Distilling, LLC, located in the Strip District, was incorporated in late 2012 and began production of Maggie's Farm Rum in October 2013. On Nov., 29, 2014, the company marked one year in business. 
 
Last month, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board announced that it will begin carrying Maggie's Farm white and spiced rums in in Premium Collection stores around southwestern Pennsylvania in time for the holidays.
 
Maggie's Farm Rum is the first commercially available Pennsylvania-made craft rum since Prohibition. All spirits are made from scratch and pot-distilled for full body and flavor on the Spanish-made copper still located behind the distillery's cocktail bar. The distillery is open for tastings and bottle sales Wednesday through Sunday and serves cocktails Friday evening and all day Saturday.

For its one-year anniversary, Allegheny Distilling released Maggie's Farm Pear Eau De Vie, an unaged pear brandy. The first of its kind in Pennsylvania, this pear brandy is made from 100 percent fresh-pressed and unpasteurized pear juice and bottled at 80 proof. A seasonal product, Maggie's Farm Pear Eau De Vie is limited to a 250-bottle single batch.
 
Maggie’s Farm is also celebrating multiple wins from the highly competitive New York International Spirits Competition, held in October at the 3 West Club in New York City. Through a blind tasting at the competition, Maggie's Farm Queen's Share Rum was awarded a silver medal. Allegheny Distilling was declared the Pennsylvania Distillery of the Year.
 
“It was a little surprising, [but] I had a lot of confidence,” said Maggie’s Farm founder and owner Tim Russell. He explained that the New York International Spirits Competition is not a medal factory like other competitions. He said the competition prides itself in its strict selection of winners.
 
Queen's Share reserve rum is made exclusively from the flavorful tail runnings of the normal Maggie's Farm cane rum distillations. It's bottled at cask strength and aged up to one year in American oak barrels. Finishes include bourbon, rye whiskey, and double barrel. Queen's Share's silver medal was among only six rums to receive this honor and no rum submitted worldwide was awarded a gold medal.

Source: Tim Russell, Maggie’s Farm Rum

Market Square arts program wins prestigious National Endowment for the Arts grant

The newfound vibrancy of Market Square will continue to thrive through Pittsburgh's bleakest winter months, thanks to a recently awarded -- and very competitive -- federal arts grant.

The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership recently received a prestigious grant from the National Endowment for the Arts that will fund the City of Pittsburgh’s Market Square Public Art Program.

With support from the $35,000 NEA grant, the Market Square program will exhibit public art during the winter months for three consecutive years. The Market Square Public Art Program was designed to showcase contemporary public art and establish the recently redesigned Market Square as a local, regional and national arts destination.
 
Two new installations will be displayed in Market Square in 2015 and 2016. Next month, the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership will announce details about the artwork for winter of 2015, though PDP President and CEO Jeremy Waldrup did shed a little light on what Pittsburgh can expect. While last year’s “Congregation” highlighted internationally renowned artists and works, this year’s Market Square Public Art Program will feature art specifically created for Market Square, premiering at the event.
 
“The intention of the program is to make Market Square a vibrant space during the winter,” Waldrup said, noting that the square is busy with events during the spring and summer.
 
The NEA received 1,474 eligible applications from nonprofit organizations nationwide under the Art Works category, requesting more than $75 million in funding. Of those applications, 919 receive for grants.
 
“It’s a highly competitive grant process and we feel privileged to be one of the organization’s selected,” said Waldrup.
 
The Market Square Public Art Program is a program of the City of Pittsburgh Department of City Planning Public Art Division, and is managed by the PDP.
 
The project launched in February 2014 with “Congregation,” a dynamic, large-scale, interactive video and sound installation by the UK’s pioneering new media artists KMA.
 
"I'm pleased to be able to share the news of our support through Art Works including the award to the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership. The arts foster value, connection, creativity and innovation for the American people and these recommended grants demonstrate those attributes and affirm that the arts are part of our everyday lives,” said Jane Chu, NEA Chairman.
 
The plan to install temporary public art in Market Square stemmed from the desire to activate the public space throughout the winter months. For three quarters of the year, Market Square is an “urban oasis” with outdoor seating, retail and array of public projects.
 
“In the first year of the Market Square Public Art Program, ‘Congregation’ was so well received. It brought people together to experience high-quality, engaging public art,” Waldrup said. “Additionally, it created a vitality in Market Square that was previously missing during this time of year. We look forward to bringing two more exciting installations to Downtown Pittsburgh in the next two years and appreciate the support of the NEA, which will enable us to do so.”
  
Source: Jeremy Waldrup, Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership
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