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Mergers result in the closure of three churches

Dwindling congregants and financial concerns have led to the closure of three Catholic churches, effective April 28.
 
According to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, Holy Cross Parish in East Pittsburgh will merge into Good Shepherd Parish in Braddock. At that time, the two church buildings now in use by Holy Cross Parish, Saint Helen and Saint William, will close.
 
Good Shepherd parish will retain its name and its current pastor, Father Albert Semler. Father Miroslaus Wojcicki, the current pastor of Holy Cross, will be reassigned.
 
Only six months after Bishop David Zubik assessed the need for a Catholic Parish in Monongahela, he announced that there will be one parish with one church building on Main Street. This merger will result in the permanent closure of Saint Anthony Church.
 
In 2012, the Holy Cross Parish had one baptism and 19 funerals, and that trend was unlikely to reverse according to the Diocese. The general population of the territories of Holy Cross and Good Shepherd has declined 21 percent since the 2000 census.
 
The merged parish will have 1,744 registered parishioners. Holy Cross currently has 346 registered members and Good Shepherd has 1,398. The Diocese of Pittsburgh currently has one parish priest for every 2,800 parishioners, which was one of several reasons for the merger.

With a total of three new closures, Pittsburgh is no stranger to vacant church buildings. According to the Diocese's website, more than 130 church properties have been sold since 2003. 

Some of these sites, with approval from the Diocese, have gone on to be transformed into residential properties, breweries and more.

"Different buildings have different feels and configurations and some may lend to  dining venues, some may lend themselves to art galleries, some may be good for a banquet facility, some may work for music studios and some may work for housing," said Sean Casey, owner of The Church Brew Works, a repurposed church on Penn Avenue. Casey also  purchased St. Kieran's in Lawrenceville last year, which will be converted into residential property. 

A closed church building remains the property of the parish and it is up to the parish to determine the fate of the building, explained John Flaherty, Secretary for Parish Life at the Diocese of Pittsburgh. 

"They can mothball the building against some future use, demolish the building, lease it, sell it or re-use it for some other parish need," he said. "The Diocesan bishop would have to approve any lease, sale or demolition of the former church building."
 
Writer: Caroline Gerdes
Source: Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, Sean Casey, John Flaherty

City, Buncher agree to explore other plans for Strip District produce terminal

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto announced Friday that the Urban Redevelopment Authority and the Buncher Co. agreed to a six-month hold on Buncher’s plans to develop a section of the Strip District which includes the produce terminal building on Smallman Street.

Buncher’s proposal involves demolishing the western third of the building, but Peduto has met with company executives regularly since taking office in January in an effort to find an option that would see the building preserved.

“What six months does is allow us to put together a viable economic plan for the adaptive reuse of the terminal building,” Peduto says. “If we can find other options that would help to see their development occur, help to preserve the terminal building and create an adaptive reuse for it, we’re going to pursue it, and Buncher is willing to be a partner in helping us get there.”

In addition to preserving the building, the city would like to see Smallman Street completely refurbished from the David L. Lawrence Convention Center to St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, including making the stretch more friendly to pedestrians and cyclists and transforming the area into Pittsburgh’s answer to Seattle’s Pike Place Market or Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal. According to Peduto, it’s just one section of the Allegheny Green Boulevard and Allegheny Riverfront Vision, plans the city would like to implement.

The agreement, which allows the city to work with other developers in trying to find a solution which both preserves the terminal and meets Buncher’s need for access to the site of its planned $450 million Riverfront Landing project, does not usurp Buncher’s option to buy the building from the URA for $1.8 million. Any equitable solution, Peduto says, will involve access to the site through the terminal.

“Even the preservation community understands that would be a condition by which the preservation of the building could happen,” Peduto says. “Even with that, it opens up the terminal building in a way that you have different pods, and those pods could be of different uses, from housing to commercial to other options that are kind of cutting edge. With all those proposals that are out there, the critical part of the next six months is showing the financing.”


Writer: Matthew Wein
Source: Bill Peduto

Local grocer bringing market to the Mexican War Streets

The space at 1327 Arch Street in the Mexican War Streets has been a corner grocery store since the building first went up in 1895. Most recently, it spent 18 years as Doug’s Market before owner Doug Nimmo closed up shop in December.

Now, another local grocer has emerged to revive the market and keep the tradition going.

Rob Collins, a Manchester resident who owns the Bryant Street Market in Highland Park, is refinishing the space and will open as the Allegheny City Market later this month.

“We’ll have a whole mix of conventional, organic, natural and gluten-free products,” Collins says. “We’ll have fresh bread delivered every day, and anything local that we sell over at Bryant Street we’ll add here, like eggs, chocolate and dairy.”
The store will also offer a small variety of prepared food, including sandwiches made on site. According to Collins, the sandwiches are among his other market’s most popular items.

War Streets residents are eager for a new local grocery, especially if it’s able to cater to the whole of the community, which has seen the wealth gap amongst its residents grow over the last 10 years.

“There’s still an extreme wealth spectrum in this neighborhood,” says Brian McGuirk, who with his wife, Caitlin, bought a home in the War Streets last year. “I think it would be good if it could serve both ends of the community. It’s exciting to see something like that come in. If we could get by supporting a local place, we’d definitely do that.”

That’s exactly what Collins intends to do.

“Like I tell everybody over at Bryant Street, we’ll have everything you need to survive except booze,” he says.

Collins is aiming to open the Allegheny City Market on March 22.


Writer: Matthew Wein
Sources: Rob Collins, Brian McGuirk

Pittsburgh developer courting European light manufacturer

A Slovenian LED manufacturer looking to establish a North American hub is giving further consideration to Pittsburgh.

Officials from Washington County-based Millcraft Investments are in Slovenia this week meeting with Robert Grah, owner Grah Lighting, about establishing a major base of operations in Pittsburgh to go along with a massive LED streetlight project.

“This aligns nicely with what Mayor Peduto has been fighting for,” says Kevin Acklin, Peduto’s chief of staff. “When he became aware with what they were looking for, he traveled to Slovenia. That was followed up by a trip [Grah] took to Pittsburgh.”

The latter visit, which Grah made last November, saw him tour the Almono brownfield site in Hazelwood, warehouses in the Strip District and meet with Peduto, then mayor-elect. After those meetings, according the Acklin, Millcraft reached out to Peduto’s administration, offering to help organize investors and raise the capital Grah is looking for.

“We know [Millcraft], we’ve worked with them and they know the landscape of the development. They stepped up. That’s something the city government can’t do by itself,” says Acklin, Pittsburgh and the potential of its Almono site stand an excellent chance of bringing the business to the region.

“He liked the Midwest presence, he liked the people, and he liked the proximity to other markets,” Acklin says. “We’ve made a very strong statement that this is something we want to see happen.”

Pittsburgh is thought to be one of two finalists for the location of Grah’s new factory. Cleveland is the other.

Writer: Matthew Wein
Source: Kevin Acklin

Councilwoman proposes creating Pittsburgh land bank

Though it might be hard to believe amid all of Pittsburgh’s recent development, the number of blighted or abandoned properties within the city is around 35,000 — about 19 percent of the city’s land. Every year, Pittsburgh spends about $20.5 million managing these properties.

Last Tuesday, District 7 Councilwoman Deb Gross introduced a bill which if passed would lay the legal groundwork for Pittsburgh to establish a land bank — a public, non-profit authority designed to streamline the process of redeveloping these tax-delinquent parcels. The land bank would be independent from the city and be run by a board of seven directors — four mayoral appointees and three city-council appointees.

“The first thing that it could do is accept property so that it would have assets. That’s why it’s important as to why it’d be independent and not a city agency,” Gross says. “If your only job is to clear title assets and sell them, you have a clean purpose and unencumbered operation.”

“I’ve talked to [the department of] city planning to try and seek out how this might happen in the next year or two, and they’ve given us 7,000 to 8,000 that are sort of out in the nebula which they call surplus. They don’t spend any time at all thinking about them. They’re just there and they’d be happy to unload them,” she added.

Under a state law passed in 2012, Pittsburgh has the authority to establish a land bank, and that bank has the ability to accept free property. It could also recoup about half of the money collected from outstanding taxes and liens when tax-delinquent parcels are sold through city treasurer’s sales. The land bank would not have the power of eminent domain.

Once established, the land back would replace the city’s current “land-recycling” method and use proceeds from sales of its assets to create a more focused and specific approach toward redeveloping these properties. Using the city’s current method at its current pace, it’s estimated that clearing the backlog of blighted properties would take about 60 years.  

Gross also noted that a Pittsburgh land bank could work in concert with municipalities outside the city, such as Wilkinsburg, to help faster spur community development projects.

“That’s stuff the URA wouldn’t be allowed to do but the land bank could,” she says.

Writer: Matthew Wein
Source: Deb Gross

Developments to watch from the new administration

After taking the oath of office Monday, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto pledged in his inaugural address to “build the Next Pittsburgh.” Here are two major building projects initiated on Luke Ravenstahl’s watch — one which could see some drastic changes, the other the new mayor will have the opportunity to help shape — before they become part of the Next Pittsburgh.

Riverfront Landing
The Buncher Company’s original $450 million plan to redevelop riverfront space in the Strip District included an office and residential complex, extending 17th Street all the way to the Allegheny River and demolishing about a third of the iconic produce terminal on Smallman Street in order to make it happen.

The plan has drawn criticism from historic preservationists who don’t want to see any part of the building razed. Yesterday, Buncher agreed to put its plans for the building on hold while it works with Peduto’s office to try and find a solution agreeable to both sides

City council tabled a vote in December which would have granted the terminal an historic landmark designation and made it vastly more difficult for anyone to damage it.

Peduto has said that he would like to see the terminal reused without demolishing any part of it, and has compared it to Seattle’s Pike Place Market, which before its overhaul was also scheduled for demolition.

Almono site
In November, city council approved an $80 million tax-increment financing plan (TIF) — the largest in Pittsburgh’s history for the site of the former LTV Coke Works in Hazelwood.

While contractors will likely spend most of 2014 grading and building interior roads and utilities on the 178-acre site, no plans for its actual development have been finalized.

Peduto has said that he would like development of the site to include significant green infrastructure to help manage stormwater runoff and alleviate some burden from the city’s already overloaded sewer system. Such measures could include canals, shallows and stormwater gardens and parks, like the one built last year in Larimer.

Writer: Matthew Wein

Community group seeking buyer for historic North Side church

If Pittsburgh has taught us anything, it’s that you can convert an old church to suit almost any need.

Between community centers, art studios, bars and restaurants, a preponderance of old churches has proved one of Pittsburgh’s greatest assets during its ongoing reinvention. Now, there’s an absolute gem on the market.

But don’t expect it to be there for long.

The church which housed the First Immanuel Evangelical Congregation, built by German and Swiss immigrants in 1889 is for sale by its owner, the Community Alliance of Spring Garden and East Deutschtown. The alliance purchased the church four years ago to save it from demolition, and had a congregation using its sanctuary as recently as last month.

Now, it’s looking for a new owner to bring economic potential to the neighborhood while taking care of the historic building.

“We want someone who’d love and care for it, but who’d also bring some kind of economic stimulus to the neighborhood” says Nancy Noszka, a development consultant who’s working with the alliance to help sell the building at 1000 Madison Avenue at Tripoli Street.

Noszka adds that the alliance is working to have the building designated an historic landmark with the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, and that among the interested parties are people who would look to turn the space into an artists’ social club, gallery space or concert venue.

The church itself occupies a little about 16,000 square feet, including two adjacent buildings which are not a part of the original structure. The building is in pretty good shape for being nearly 125 years old, and sanctuary is in nearly pristine condition — including leaden stained glass windows which, though boarded on the outside, trace their origins to a turn-of-the-century Highland Park glassmaker.

Writer: Matthew Wein
Source: Nancy Noszka

ACTION Housing to redevelop long-vacant Squirrel Hill property

After sitting vacant for nearly a decade, the space that formerly housed Poli restaurant in Squirrel Hill has been acquired by ACTION-Housing and will be redeveloped into a mix of residential and office units.

After more than a year of effort, ACTION acquired the property at 5685 Forward Avenue through a sheriff’s sale in September. It will partner with Jewish Residential Services to convert the site into a multi-purpose facility after demolishing the existing structure.

“We’d build up four or five stories,” says Linda Metropulos, ACTION-Housing’s director of housing and neighborhood development. “We’d build the building as a condo, and JRS would have the ground floor. We’d have the residential space above.”

Metropulos adds that JRS would likely use its portion of the space to build out its offices and improve the Howard Levin Clubhouse — a non-profit facility assisting people affected by mental illness — which currently sits in the space adjacent to the former restaurant.

She also says that while plans are very premature, the project will cost somewhere between $12 and $15 million to complete. Though ACTION hasn’t formally enlisted an architecture firm, Metropulos said it is doing preliminary consultations with Downtown-based FortyEighty Architecture.

“We’d probably start construction at the end of 2015,” Metropulos says. “It’s a lengthy process.”

Writer: Matthew Wein
Source: Linda Metropulos

PCRG initiative seeks to revive housing in Pittsburgh's Sheraden neighborhood

Originally built as one of Pittsburgh’s first working-class developments, Sheraden has seen better days. But if a Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group initiative pays off, better days are still to come.

“You kind of have this perfect storm situation where you had this steady population decline, and when the housing bubble burst, Sheraden was hit harder than any other neighborhood in Pittsburgh,” says the PCRG’s Steve Novotny.

The PCRG chose Sheraden — an historic but declining neighborhood in West Pittsburgh — as the pilot for its Reimagining Communities initiative last year. The initiative, which includes partnerships with NeighborWorks Western PA and Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh, is taking a multi-faceted approach toward reversing property divestment in one of Pittsburgh’s most overlooked neighborhoods.

PCRG's help, the Pittsburgh Housing Development Corporation has acquired a number of vacant and foreclosed properties with the ultimate goal of bringing them up to standard and putting them back on the market.

“At a given time you’ve got about 180 vacant sturctures out of about 900 – about a 20 percent rate. The big take away from that is that over the last few years, only about 20 have been for sale,” Novotny says. “What we’re doing is trying to collect data on the property in the neighborhood, and figure out what’s keeping these properties from being on the market.”

In addition to rehabbing homes and collecting information about how to best move forward, the initiative offers Sheraden residents access to financial education workshops and resources. In doing this, PCRG hopes not only to keep current residents from avoiding foreclosure, but build their financial literacy and personal wealth, in addition to offering free repairs for elderly residents’ homes.

“It helps support our work in the neighborhood in addressing these issues and trying to reactivate the housing market,” Novotny says. “The housing stock is largely still intact. It’s a good mix of older, worker-style and mixed-income housing, and a lot of the homes have front and back yards and off-street parking.”

Writer: Matthew Wein
Source: Steve Novotny

The Brew Gentlemen plant roots in Braddock

In the great tradition of what Braddock once was, Asa Foster and Matt Katase are out to build something.

“Braddock’s not going to be back to what it was, but it will reinvent itself as something else,” Katase says. “We want to be a part of that.”

Foster and Katase, who met during their freshman year at Carnegie Mellon and became fast friends, started brewing their own beer three years ago while college juniors. Last year, they took over the space at 512 Braddock Avenue and set about — quite literally — building The Brew Gentlemen Beer Company.

Katase recalls showing the space to his brother last year around Thanksgiving.

“I unlocked the door and said, ‘this is where it’s going to be!’ and it was, well, not a disaster, but the remains of what was once an electrical supply store.”

Though they’ve taken a break from actually brewing to physically construct their brewery — they’re doing nearly all of the renovations themselves — they’ve already developed and tested a number of recipes, including four flagship beers which they plan to keep on tap year-round.

Foster, a Boston native, and Katase, who hails from Hawaii, envision their space as a large, serene and inviting area, full of exposed brick and wood, and moving at a different pace than most breweries.

“We are definitely looking to bring something to the Pittsburgh beer market that doesn’t already exist,” Foster says. “We want to have a more café kind of vibe in that we want people to feel comfortable with it as a hangout space, not just a tasting space.”

“Come in and read a book. Come in and get some work done. Nobody’s going to rush you out of your seat just because you’re taking up a barstool,” Katase added.

“It’s a manifestation of our brand, and we want that to be reflective of what our beer is,” Foster says. “It’s the place where we have the most control over quality.”

Foster and Katase hope to start brewing again by late December or early January, and have the taproom open to the public early next year. In the meantime, they’ve had plenty of support.

“Almost every day, someone comes up to us and says something thankful or encouraging,” Katase says. “People are psyched to see young people doing things in Braddock.”

You can follow The Brew Gentlemen’s progress on their blog, Facebook and Twitter.

Writer: Matthew Wein
Sources: Asa Foster, Matt Katase

Hazelwood riverfront gets largest TIF in city history

Pittsburgh City Council has approved the largest tax-increment financing plan in the city’s history, green-lighting an $80 million plan to aid in the redevelopment of 178 acres of brownfield in Hazelwood.

Known as Almono, the site once served as the Pittsburgh hub for J&L Steel, later LTV Steel. The company’s operations were so expansive that it built what’s now known as the Hot Metal Bridge to connect its blast furnaces on both sides of the Monongahela River between Oakland and the South Side.

“One of the remarkable things about this project is the fact that four foundations came together to purchase this property so that they could pursue a mixed-use, highly sustainable project, giving them the time and the thoughtfulness to make it an example of best practice from sustainable development,” says Lisa Schroeder, president and CEO of Riverlive. “It’s a long time coming and the scale of it is really a change-maker.”

The foundations — R.K. Mellon, Benedum, McCune and the Heinz Endowments, with RIDC overseeing the development — teamed up to purchase the lot for $10 million in 2002 when it was abandoned space with obsolete infrastructure which cut the community of Hazelwood off from its riverfront. It remains a totally unused gap on the north bank of the Monogahela riverfront, but Schroeder says that should soon change with the TIF now approved.

“One of the reasons that the TIF financing is so powerful is that the site requires an investment in infrastructure,” Schroeder says, adding that development is likely to include not just residential and commercial property, but extension of the city’s riverfront parks and bike trails, as well as gateways from Hazelwood to Oakland, the South Side and Downtown.

“The existing community will be seamlessly weaved into the plan,” she says, adding that Hazelwood will see “urban fabric all the way to the river’s edge.”

Writer: Matthew Wein
Source: Lisa Schroeder

Community Builders breaks ground on East Liberty Place South

The Community Builders, one of the country’s largest non-profit developers, ceremonially broke ground Monday morning on East Liberty Place South, a $14.2 million project which will ultimately fill the space where East Mall Apartments once stood.

Located at 5836 Penn Avenue, East Liberty Place South will contain 52 one- and two-bedroom apartments and 11,000 square feet of commercial space.

“It’s a building that’s fairly close to the scale of East Liberty Place North,” says James Eby, senior project manager for Community Builders. “The difference is that we’ve treated the ground floor a little differently. We have a very small residential footprint on the ground. Commercial viability there was very important.”

Eby added that because the units will have certain income limits, he expects rent for the one-bedroom apartments to range between $517 and $900 per month, and the two-bedroom units to go for between $618 and $1,250.

“What we’re doing on the residential space is for people interested in the residential housing, they can get on an interest list. And then when we’re ready to start leasing, they’ll be invited to apply,” he says, adding that the developer received more than 200 applications for similar units in East Liberty Place North, just across the street, before the building opened its doors.

As they did with East Liberty North, Community Builders will work with architecture firm Strada and Sota Construction on the project, which is scheduled to open next October.

“Our goal is to replicate that at South,” Eby says.  “I expect a lot of interest again.”

Writer: Matthew Wein
Source: James Eby

New 'innovation campus' coming to East Liberty

Kit Mueller, co-founder of Rustbuilt and Built In Pittsburgh, plans to buy the building at 6400 Hamilton Avenue in East Liberty and turn it into something he’s calling The Forge — Pittsburgh’s first innovation campus.

“The intent is to provide a framework for all that’s happening in that neck of the woods,” says Mueller.

Each floor in the 98,000 square-foot building is big enough to hold one fairly large company, as well as flexible space for growing companies. The building, which is more than 100 years old and formerly served as a slaughterhouse, will include education and maker space, a rooftop nanotel — living quarters made from recycled shipping containers for use by visiting teachers and innovators — and agritecture, a state-of-the-art operation for sustainable, urban, indoor farming.

The building should be ready for tenants within about 20 months.

“Other rust belt cities are doing this sort of thing, and this will add our own special flavor for what’s going on here in the ‘Burgh,” he says. “This wouldn’t be feasible in some other parts of the city, and we’re glad to be doing it where the rest of the innovation is happening.”

One of the main ideas behind building an innovation campus, Mueller says, is that it would not only provide affordable space for businesses coming out of startup incubators, but that it would have enough space to retain them as they grew and keep them in geographically close like-minded institutions, such as Google, Tech Shop and Thrill Mill.

“You never have to grow out of the building. You come out of the accelerators and grow into a full floor.”

Writer: Matthew Wein
Source: Kit Mueller

Old McKees Rocks railroad yard will become new freight facility

CSX Corporation, the Jacksonville, Fla.-based railway transportation conglomerate which owns and operates some 21,000 miles of railroad in the Eastern United States, will build an intermodal facility in McKees Rocks.

The facility, which will be located at the site of the former Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad Yard, will allow manufacturers in the region more direct access to freight rail, as well as reduce transit costs associated with shipping various products to the region.

“The manufacturing businesses and infrastructure that were built around it 100 years ago are all still in place,” says Taris Vrcek, executive director of the McKees Rocks Community Development Corporation. “It fits nicely and it’s directly adjacent to the industrial park we’ve been building.”

The $50 million facility, one of nearly 48 CSX controls nationwide, will occupy some 70 acres and ultimately bring multiple hundreds of jobs to the area. Construction will begin in 2015, with the aim of the intermodal facility opening the following year.

“This kind of impact is even more compelling if you think about how compact lower McKees Rocks is. This facility is going to attract other businesses that want to be near it,” Vrcek says. “The portion of land CSX is going to occupy is kind of narrow, and really doesn’t lend itself to anything else.”

Vrcek added that the eventual impact the facility could have on McKees Rocks could be immeasurable, citing projected positive effects on the area’s Main Street Project and entertainment district, on top of the adjacent 50-acre industrial park which will be ready for construction next year.

“We really feel like we’re creating this mix of old and new Pittsburgh,” he says. “It builds that snowball effect. The prospects for success here are becoming more and more solid.”

Writer: Matthew Wein
Source: Taris Vrcek 

Two Downtown Pittsburgh programs garner international recognition

During its World Congress and annual conference in New York City last week, the International Downtown Association recognized a two of Downtown Pittsburgh’s innovative improvement programs.

The Paris to Pittsburgh Sidewalk Activation and Façade Improvement Program received a Downtown Pinnacle Award, and the Peoples Gas Holiday Market claimed a Merit Award. Both programs are the work of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership.

“The façade program, we were told, was chosen because of its longevity. When you walk around Downtown, it’s easy to see the impact that this program has had,” says PDP spokesperson Leigh White. “In Market Square, there’s hardly a single restaurant which hasn’t taken advantage of Paris to Pittsburgh. It’s definitely changed the face of the city.”

As a Pinnacle Award recipient, the PDP is responsible for producing a webinar on its winning project, and spreading its methods of downtown revival to other cities making to look improvements. That’s nothing new for the PDP, whose staffers are regularly asked to make presentations on Project Pop Up to other downtown associations looking to innovate.

The holiday market, on the other hand, is a relatively new program.

“It was just introduced last winter, and we’re really excited to bring it back this year,” White says. “The whole reason for doing it is that we felt there was a need to have something anchored for the season in Downtown Pittsburgh.”

The holiday market, which serves as a benefit for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, raised $25,000 last year. White anticipates eclipsing that mark this year. The market will open the day after Light Up Night and run an extra week. The PDP plans to more than double the number of participating vendors and make Market Square “feel more like a village,” according to White.

Writer: Matthew Wein
Source: Leigh White
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