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First-of-its-kind Vacant Home Tour showcases Wilkinsburg homes

Stately front porches, columns, Victorian architecture and history are all elements of a successful home tour. And, Wilkinsburg’s tour will highlight five homes with these coveted features, though there is one catch: The homes are abandoned.
The first-ever Vacant Home Tour, a project developed by students at Carnegie Mellon University in partnership with the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation and Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, will be held in Wilkinsburg on Saturday, May 9, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The event is a self-guided neighborhood walking tour that is free and open to the public.
“The Vacant Home Tour aims to address [blight] by highlighting some of Wilkinsburg’s historic vacant properties,” said Tracey Evans, WCDC executive director. “The tour will include a workshop component, which will provide people with information and tools that can be used to acquire and rehabilitate vacant homes and commercial properties in Wilkinsburg.”
The overall goal of the tour is to eliminate blight by reframing the issue as an opportunity for rehabilitation in the Borough of Wilkinsburg. The tour will showcase five historic vacant homes located throughout Wilkinsburg (718 Whitney Ave., 740 Hill Ave., 816 South Ave., 1329 Singer Place and 831 Rebecca Ave.), including properties in the Singer Place and Hamnett Place neighborhoods.
The idea for the Vacant Home Tour was born last fall when Ken Chu, a CMU public policy graduate student in the Heinz College, took a class about design for humanitarian impact. He and a few classmates, of varying backgrounds spanning from architecture to design to robotics, worked on a group project with the goal of developing ideas to remediate blight in the Pittsburgh region.
Marlee Gallagher, WCDC communications and outreach coordinator, said Chu and his classmates met with residents of the Hamnett Place neighborhood to discuss what could be done to improve the community and the idea for the home tour was born. Chu is carrying out this event as his culminating spring capstone project. 
Gallagher called the Vacant Home Tour “a cool new project that hadn’t been done anywhere.” She added that the event could be replicated in other places to help remediate blight.
“[The event shows] people that acquiring properties is a tangible thing,” she said.
Community members will serve as tour guides, greeting participants at each stop along the tour and relaying each property’s history. All tour goers will receive a tour kit, complete with a tour map as well as photos, historical facts and information about each property. During the tour, the WCDC, PHLF and partners will host two resource workshops for tour goers who are interested in acquiring and rehabilitating a vacant property. The workshop will feature speakers who specialize in acquiring, financing and rehabilitating vacant homes and buildings. Workshop attendees will learn about the processes, available tools, risks and challenges and rewards involved in acquiring vacant property. 
“There are several hundred vacant properties in Wilkinsburg, so it was hard to pin down just five,” Gallagher said.
And, the five properties, along with others in the borough, are eligible to be acquired, Gallagher explained. She said the event will promote ways to acquire these properties, including the Vacant Property Recovery Program.  
Gallagher said it can cost less than $10,000 to acquire a house via the Vacant Property Recovery Program. Additional expenses depend on the work that goes into the individual property, though costs usually include plumbing, electric and roof renovations that in total can cost between $30,000 and $50,000.
In March, the Wilkinsburg Vacant Home Tour was recognized as a finalist in the Fels National Public Policy Competition at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. The Fels Competition resulted in a $5,000 award, which will be used to cover tour expenses. In addition to this award, the tour is being sponsored by Neighborhood Allies, through a Small & Simple grant, with additional funding support provided by Carnegie Mellon University. 
The tour will feature house histories with displays and artifacts, as well as showcasing Wilkinsburg as a community.  Other points of interest along the tour route will include the Wilkinsburg Train Station, Hosanna House, Wilkinsburg Boys & Girls Club, Landmarks Preservation Resource Center, Singer Mansion and Garden Dreams Urban Farm & Garden. The Wilkinsburg High School band is also set to play. Tour coordinators expect more than 400 attendees and are actively seeking volunteers to assist during the tour. 
Source: WCDC, Marlee Gallagher 

Bottle shop and bar program opens at Marty's Market

Brunch just got boozier at Marty’s Market in the Strip District.
Last Thursday, the gourmet grocer already boasting a coffee bar, café, market and butchery, opened its anticipated bottle shop with a wide craft selection from regional breweries. And, this weekend, Marty’s unveiled its new bar program with its brunch menu now bolstering breakfast beers and cocktails.
Beverage consultant Will Groves, formerly with Legume's bar Butterjoint, is helping to establish the bar program and bottle shop. Groves said he was excited to work with Marty’s as the coffee bar’s products and espresso machine is fodder for interesting coffee cocktails, like the Kentucky Cortado, an espresso and whiskey brunch cocktail at Marty’s. Groves added that not a lot of bars have access to professional, high-quality espresso.
Though the restaurant menu may only feature a dozen or more beers, café customers can grab a beer from the bottle shop’s wide selection to pair with their meals. Marty’s popular outdoor seating area and coffee bar stools also allow drinking.
Groves said he focused on providing an array of local brews and a wide selection of IPAs in the bottle shop.
"If you break out the best selling beers in America right now by style …  IPA is No. 3,” he said. “It’s your standard beer for a craft beer consumer.”
Groves noted North Country Brewing Company out of Slippery Rock and Great Lakes Brewing Co.’s Chillwave Double IPA as personal favorites in the bottle shop. He said the Chillwave Double IPA is hoppy with a hint of honey, which gives it a floral note and adds to drinkability.
In addition to existing six-packs, customers can also purchase individual beers or create their own six-pack for $12.99.
With the launch of the bar program and beer shop, Marty’s Market is currently hiring new positions, from bartenders to baristas and beer geeks to staff the new bottle area.
Source: Regina Koetters, Marty’s Market, Will Groves 

Bottom Dollar site in Garfield to become ALDI store

After Bottom Dollar announced it would be closing all 20 of its Pittsburgh locations by the end of 2014, the fate of the Bottom Dollar site at 5200 Penn Ave. in Garfield generated much concern from residents.
ALDI announced last November that it planned to purchase Bottom Dollar stores, not operations, though the specific locations were uncertain. 
Brent Laubaugh, vice-president at ALDI's regional headquarters in Saxonburg, Butler County, recently announced that the Penn Avenue store -- which has been the focus of much recent community activity to bring another high-quality food retailer to the city's East End -- will open again as an ALDI grocery store. 

ALDI announced that the company has completed its purchase of 66 real estate assets from the Delhaize Group, including the Penn Avenue location. The transaction includes the land, buildings and leasehold improvements associated with Delhaize’s recently retired Bottom Dollar Food operation.
Mayor Bill Peduto’s office released a statement that Peduto, the Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation, and the citizens and business owners in the Penn Avenue corridor were excited about the news from the ALDI.
"The ALDI business model will be a great asset to the residents of Garfield and a number of the neighborhoods surrounding it," Peduto said. "For folks who want to stretch their grocery dollar, ALDI can be a great place to shop."
In 1987, a Giant Eagle grocery store closed on Penn Avenue, forcing neighborhood residents to travel miles to purchase groceries. For residents without cars and elderly residents, this proved to be a hardship, especially in the winter months, according to Peduto.
The mayor and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald met in February with ALDI officials and urged them to give the Penn Avenue location serious consideration as a possible third store in the city. ALDI currently operates stores in Pittsburgh on Baum Boulevard and East Carson Street.
"ALDI said they would work to achieve a positive outcome for the community with this site, no matter what would happen, and they were true to their word," Peduto said. "Today's announcement is another great example of what happens when Pittsburgh business, neighborhood and our government leaders -- including Executive Fitzgerald and City Councilwoman Deb Gross -- come together to work for the common good."

In December 2013, ALDI embarked on an accelerated growth plan to open 650 new stores by the end of 2018, with the goal of operating nearly 2,000 stores across the country. ALDI also is planning to invest more than $3 billion to pay for land, facilities and equipment. When the expansion is complete, ALDI will have stores coast to coast and anticipates serving more than 45 million customers per month. The expansion is expected to create more than 10,000 new jobs at ALDI stores, warehouses and division offices.

To see the full list of stores ALDI plans to re-open across the region, please read this announcement from the organization. 
Source: Office of Mayor William Peduto, ALDI

New Downtown hotels breathe life into historic buildings

The architect of record for the recently opened Hotel Monaco Pittsburgh is bringing two more hotels to the city.
Combining its expertise in historic preservation and adaptive reuse with creative placemaking, Strada, a cross-disciplinary design firm, is helping to breathe new life into a series of buildings built in the first half of the 20th century. These designs preserve many of the buildings’ original features to create distinctive hotel experiences.
Strada is a firm where architects and interior designers collaborate closely with urban designers, landscape architects and graphic designers to create places for people. In addition to Strada, the Hotel Monaco’s project design team included Gensler, Beleco Design, Mark Zeff and Ohm Lighting.
The Hotel Monaco occupies the James H. Reed Building, Downtown. Erected in 1903, the property now features 248 guest rooms, 13 suites, a 120-seat restaurant, and a rooftop deck. Guests uncover surprising details throughout the hotel such as bird-foot lamps in the lobby, trompe l’oeil wall coverings in the elevators and bold houndstooth draperies in the guest rooms. The Commoner restaurant’s industrial-chic design gives a nod to the city’s past and is accentuated by an intimate bar, an open kitchen and glowing amber glass walls.
And Strada is working to bring the same detail to two more Pittsburgh hotels, the Drury Inn & Suites Pittsburgh and the Distrikt Hotel.
The marble banking hall and wood-paneled board room of Pittsburgh’s Cleveland Federal Reserve Bank Building will become a focal point of the new 200-room Drury Inn & Suites. A clean palette of contemporary materials will complement the existing Art Deco finishes and detailing of the 1930s-era structure. A rooftop deck and pool are planned for the eighth floor -- tucked under the mansard roof. Strada is the architect for the project and is also providing interior design services along with the Drury Hotels’ in-house design staff. Construction on the hotel is scheduled to begin in May, with an anticipated opening in 2016.
Pittsburgh's Distrikt Hotel will breathe life into the quirky old Salvation Army Building. The building’s original chapel will be used as a lobby, lounge and mezzanine bar available to all, and the original gym will become a restaurant. The circa-1924 building brings more than limestone block and stained-glass windows to the project. The 180-room Distrikt Pittsburgh is putting historic elements to work, including ornate vaulted beams and original woodwork. Strada is both the architect and interior designer for the hotel, which plans to open in the summer of 2016.
Source: Strada

Neighborhood Allies to host New Markets Tax Credits 101 workshop

Neighborhood Allies and the Richard King Mellon Foundation are hosting New Markets Tax Credits 101 on Thursday, March 26, at the Citizens Building, Downtown, for the area's business owners, developers, investors, nonprofits or any organization with a real estate project looking for additional capital.
The event, which aims to take the mystery out of the development tool, will include panelists from Novogradac & Company LLP, PNC Bank and others to guide attendants through the workshops. The workshops focus on explaining the New Markets Tax Credit Program, what projects can qualify and case studies of local businesses that have utilized the credit.
The NMTC Program works to spur revitalization and rebuilding in low-income communities across the United States as part of the Community Renewal Tax Relief Act of 2000. The program provides tax incentives for equity investment in abandoned or underdeveloped communities via Community Development Entities.
“I really can’t emphasize enough how important a program like this is,” said Neighborhood Allies President Presley Gillespie. “It’s a tool to transform communities.”
Gillespie said Neighborhood Allies’ purpose is "to support revitalization of our neighborhoods by connecting people to resources.” This workshop is another way the organization can educate the community about investment.
“We want this powerful economic tool to be used much more frequently in Pittsburgh,” Gillespie said.
Gillespie said the event is a great opportunity to educate local partners, create excitement about the NMTC program and ensure that neighborhoods suffering from disinvestment and abandonment benefit with the proper development incentives.
New Markets Tax Credits 101 will be held from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 26 at the Citizens Building, 525 William Penn Place, 16th floor. The rate for the Pittsburgh event is $50 per person, which includes lunch.
Source: Presley Gillespie, Neighborhood Allies

Hill District agreement solidifies U.S. Steel headquarters and $20 million investment

The long-awaited redevelopment of the Hill District is moving forward, thanks to cooperation among city officials, neighborhood residents and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
"We are committed [to] implementing a transformational development on the Lower Hill District site that rebuilds the Middle and Upper Hill District,” said Mayor Bill Peduto. “When I took office last January, I committed to having an open-door policy for my administration, and this agreement proves that. Everyone will have the opportunity to have a seat at the table. "
The agreement clarified the Community Collaboration and Implementation Plan for the Lower Hill at the 28-acre site of the former Civic Arena. A new U.S. Steel headquarters will anchor the project.
In addition to U.S. Steel’s headquarters, the agreement also included plans for the Greater Hill District Reinvestment Fund, which is slated to invest more than $20 million in projects throughout the Hill District.
"This renewed agreement is important not only because it allows this project to move forward, but because it also ensures continued benefits for the neighborhood that is most likely to be impacted," said Sen. Wayne D. Fontana (D-Allegheny). "I'm proud that we have continued to work together to find compromise, and that we have a stronger agreement thanks to the work of this dedicated team."
Under the settlement, the Hill Community Development Corp. withdrew its appeal of the Lower Hill Planned Development District approved by the city Planning Commission in December, and agreed to support the U.S. Steel headquarters as a catalyst for the overall development of the Hill District.
City Councilman Daniel Lavelle will introduce an affordable housing task force comprised of city, county, state, federal and community leaders. An executive community created under the CCIP agreement will also appoint an independent consultant to help implement the community collaboration plan and issue progress reports to the committee.
According to the Mayor’s Office, the deal was reached with the assistance of Peduto, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald (D), Congressman Mike Doyle (D), Fontana and state Sen. Jay Costa (D). State Rep. Jake Wheatley (D) and City Councilman Lavelle (D) took leadership roles in helping to preserve the opportunity for the most robust investment ever made by a public-private partnership in the Hill.
Source: The Office of Mayor William Peduto

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

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

Sheraton Pittsburgh at Station Square completes $15 million renovation

In an attempt to make Pittsburgh's only waterfront hotel as beautiful as the views it offers of the city's skyline, the Sheraton Pittsburgh at Station Square recently finished an extensive $15 million renovation. 

Sheraton Hotels & Resorts and Pyramid Hotel Group announced the redesign of the hotel's lobby, meeting space, Trackside Restaurant and 399 transformed guest rooms, including 21 suites.
“The transformation of Sheraton Pittsburgh at Station Square combined with the exemplary service of our associates will help to propel it to new heights and reinforce its status as a landmark hotel in the city,” said Roger Life, Sheraton Pittsburgh at Station Square general manager. 
Guest rooms and suites have been modernized to include new furniture, wall coverings, carpeting and in-room guest safes. The guest rooms feature stunning views of Pittsburgh’s skyline, the Monongahela River or historic Mount Washington.
“There isn’t a hotel that has the ability to look onto the city like ours does,” Life said of the scenic views.
Trackside Restaurant, the hotel’s dining venue, has received a new look offering casual dining in a comfortable setting. Life said Trackside offers highboy tables with individual televisions for business or weekend travelers.
The hotel at 300 W. Station Square Drive has also refreshed more than 30,000 square feet of indoor/outdoor meeting space featuring new wall and ceiling upgrades, carpet and lighting. The centerpiece of the meeting space renovation is the 9,750-square-foot ballroom venue for meetings, workshops and seminars. The full lobby redesign includes new carpet, wall covering, lighting and furniture upgrades. In the transformed lobby, guests can enjoy complimentary wireless connections -- and all rooms offer high-speed Internet.
“It’s a lovely transformation for the property,” Life said. “And the city of Pittsburgh.”
Guests who book before December 30, 2014, are invited to experience the newly renovated hotel with a special offer for stays through March 31, 2015. For more information, visit www.sheratonpittsburghstationsquare.com/renovation or call 888-325-3535.
Source: Roger Life, Sheraton Hotels & Resorts

Landmarks Community Capital Corporation awards $99,000 loan to Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation

Landmarks Community Capital Corporation, a nonprofit lending subsidiary of Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, closed on a $99,000 construction loan to the Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation in September to renovate its storied community center.
The loan will provide rehabilitation funds for BGC's community center, located on North Pacific Avenue in Garfield. This building, a former Methodist church constructed in 1898, serves as a primary meeting place for public events in the Garfield community.
Rick Swartz, BGC executive director, explained that the Landmarks Community Capital Corporation was interested in the community center as an important part of the neighborhood. Although the 19th-century church is not a certified historic landmark, the building has a lot of history, Swartz said.
“It is something of a historical asset in the neighborhood,” Swartz said. 
The first phase of building improvements include: new flooring in the main hall, window replacements, heating and cooling upgrades, new entry doors, painting and enhanced lighting. Exterior brickwork, window replacements and outdoor painting are also planned to enhance the building as a visible part of the neighborhood.
The BGC serves Bloomfield, Garfield and Friendship; the center provides programming for those communities, including a BGC children’s summer camp. Swartz says these improvements will benefit events and programming.
He said renovations will make the space more attractive for neighbors seeking a family-friendly venue. He said he hopes the upgrades to lighting and lower-volume heating and cooling can attract more professional and job orientation sessions. The improved temperature systems will also help with costs to the nonprofit.
Swartz said it is difficult to find grants and gifts for building improvements of this kind. But the loan from the Landmarks Community Capital Corporation is helping the BGC get started.  Swartz noted that the Urban Redevelopment Authority did assist the BGC with a $5,000 grant for community center renovations. And, he said, Garfield resident and architect Gary Cirrincione is lending a hand by assisting in plans and overseeing construction.
“We’re just trying to make it … a space you feel very comfortable in,” Swartz said, adding that he hopes neighbors see it as a place for meetings, baby showers and anniversary parties in the future.
Construction on the BGC community center should be completed December 2014.
Source: Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, Rick Swartz

Governor Corbett highlights $28.5 million Birmingham Bridge repair project as example of Act 89

Last week, Gov. Tom Corbett stood before the Birmingham Bridge and declared that its $28.5 million repair project underscores the benefits coming to Pennsylvania because of Act 89, a transportation plan.
Act 89, which the governor signed in November, increases transportation investment by $2.3 billion by 2018.
"My administration is working hard to deliver the hundreds of additional projects for this year from Act 89 proceeds, and the Birmingham Bridge is a very visible example of what we are delivering," Gov. Corbett said at the news conference near the bridge.
The 2,747-foot-long, 19-span bridge opened in 1976 and carries 23,000 vehicles a day. With resources from Act 89, PennDOT was able to accelerate the timetable so work on the bridge could begin this year.
Act 89 also supports jobs for local workers, the governor added, noting that the transportation plan saved an estimated 12,000 jobs and will create 18,000 additional jobs this year and 50,000 jobs in the next five years.
PennDOT's latest projections show that more than $2.3 billion will be invested into the state's highway and bridge network this year, more than $800 million above what would have been available without Act 89.
In Pittsburgh, Act 89 spared the Port Authority of Allegheny County from a trend of cutting service and alienating riders, according to the Governor’s Office. Act 89 funding allows the Port Authority to target improvements, such as overcrowding on routes and on-time performance issues.
Joseph B. Fay Co. of Tarentum was awarded the $28.5 million contract for the work on the Birmingham Bridge. It will involve steel repairs, bearing replacements, substructure repairs, light pole replacements, a concrete overlay and a complete repainting. The work is now underway and will be finished in 2017.
PennDOT has started work on more than 200 Act 89-funded projects covering more than 1,600 miles of roads and 83 bridges. Overall, more than 900 projects are expected to get underway this year, both from Act 89 and prior funding streams.
Source: Pennsylvania Office of the Governor

Frick Art & Historical Center receives $3 million redevelopment grant

The Frick Art & Historical Center in Point Breeze has secured a $3 million Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant from Harrisburg. The funding will go toward building a new education and community center, which is the second phase of the museum's current $15 million expansion project.
"This remarkable gift propels the campaign toward its $15 million goal and affirms the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's support of this important project, which will greatly enhance [the] Frick's ability to provide the public with essential educational and cultural experiences," said Frick Trustee and Campaign Chair Charles R. Burke, Jr.
Before learning of the RACP funding, the Frick had raised just over $10.5 million toward its campaign goal. The $3 million RACP grant, part of an economic growth initiative program, puts the total raised at more than $13.5 million.
Funding for the Frick Education and Community Center project will serve East End neighborhoods and enhance the museum. The project will broaden the Frick's educational outreach to children and allow the museum to better accommodate bus tours and seniors. The project is expected to be completed by the beginning of 2016.
"We are grateful for the generous support of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and believe that the Education and Community Center project will strengthen the Frick as a cultural and educational anchor in the East End," said Carolyn Reed, Chair of the Frick's Board of Trustees.
This summer, the Frick opened a new orientation center, marking the completion of Phase I of the expansion project that began in May 2013. The new facility serves as a focal point for arriving visitors and includes a range of educational interactive activities. The orientation center also houses a new museum store.
“[Phase II] will include new learning spaces,” said Greg Langel, media and marketing manager at the Frick.
The second phase of the expansion project calls for a new education center in the current Carriage Gallery of the Car and Carriage Museum, a renovated facility onsite. Renovating the Carriage Gallery will also help the Frick to enhance collection storage, Langel said.

The project will allow for construction of a new community center that will provide additional education and program space and create a venue for events. The center will have a prep kitchen to better accommodate bus tours and field trips.
“[The community center will] increase our ability to serve greater numbers of individuals,” Langel said. “We’re really excited about the grant and it pushes so close to our total goal. It’s a statement that the Commonwealth supports arts and culture in western Pennsylvania.”

VIA Festival to use Union Trust Building for pop-up event

This year’s VIA Festival, a Pittsburgh-based music and new media celebration, will be held from Oct. 1 to Oct. 5 with 18 events at various locations across the city, including a pop-up event on Oct. 4 at the Union Trust Building at 501 Grant Street, Downtown. 
“It’s a music festival, combined with digital culture,” said VIA co-director Quinn Leonowicz. “[It’s] Pittsburgh’s largest celebration of music and digital culture.”
Now in its fifth year, VIA utilizes an underused or vacant venue every year. This year, with the help of the Mayor’s Office, VIA has acquired the Union Trust.
“We just try to pick non-traditional spaces, something that has been underutilized,” he said, adding that the city approved the venue only about a month ago. In the meantime, Leonowicz, co-director Lauren Goshinski and a team of volunteers have been working quickly to prepare for the festival.
VIA will take over a variety of spaces on the first floor and lower level of the building, including installation of a 30-foot bubble in the building’s central rotunda, which is capped by a stained glass dome. The bubble is described as an “immersive audio-visual environment” with ASMR immersive therapy and the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset.
A former department store will be turned into a digital sculpture gallery and will simulate real life and virtual experiences with custom iPad apps, video games and virtual figure drawing classes, using the online platform Second Life.

The lower level of the Union Trust Building will turn into a multi-stage nightclub for audio-visual performances featuring local, national and international artists such as Zebra Katz, Blue Hawaii, L-Vis 1990, Traxman, Cakes da Killa, Cities Aviv, Diode Milliampere and Troxum.
While entertainment and experiences will vary from audio showcases to film, VIA also has an educational element. On Oct. 3, a conference at Carnegie Mellon University will feature artists discussing Ableton Music software, workshops and musical performances.
Leonowicz said he sees VIA as an umbrella for future events, including upcoming VIA performances in Chicago. Although Leonowicz said VIA will always be based in Pittsburgh, he hopes this collaboration between Pittsburgh and Chicago will form an artist exchange. He compared it to other arts events that start in cities like New York and spread across the country.
For more information about VIA, please visit, via2014.com.
Source: Quinn Leonowicz, VIA 

Mellon Square is reopening after a $10 million spring cleaning

More than 3,500 daffodils are emerging from planters in Mellon Square, heralding the imminent completion of a three-year, $10 million construction project to restore a historic landscape site to its original, 1950s elegance.
The project to rejuvenate Mellon Square in downtown was born from the efforts of the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and the City of Pittsburgh with funding from the Richard King Mellon Foundation and BNY Mellon. Heritage Landscapes lead the design team.
Restoration of the space has remained true to the mid-century design of its principal creators, John Ormsbee Simonds of Simonds & Simonds and James A. Mitchell of Mitchell & Ritchey. In 1955, they completed a revolutionary concept put forth by Richard King Mellon and Mayor David Lawrence.
The space was developed to anchor the city’s business hub and spur economic development during Pittsburgh’s post-World War II renaissance. The project also provided a memorial to Richard King Mellon’s father, Richard B. Mellon, and his uncle, Andrew Mellon.
Despite efforts by the city to maintain the space, “lack of resources, time, weather, use, pigeons and vandalism took their toll on Mellon Square,” and the park began to deteriorate, according to the Parks Conservancy.
The damage was not just cosmetic, explains Susan Rademacher, parks curator for the Parks Conservancy. By 2007, when plans to renovate the park were initiated, the original, cold war technology was beginning to fail. Corrosion corrupted the fountain, mechanical, electric and plumbing systems were broken and some terrazzo paving had deteriorated.
“By the end of the 20th Century, much of the original elegance had been lost,” she says. “Our overarching goal is to bring back Mellon Square as an urban oasis.”
New features from the restoration include the Interpretive Wall — telling the story of Mellon Square and its relationship to the Mellon family — and the construction of an elevated terrace overlooking Smithfield Street based on an original concept by Simonds and Mitchell. New lighting has also been installed for nighttime viewing and to set off plantings and architectural features.
“Mellon Square was created to be a refreshing oasis in the heart of the city, and throughout our restoration process we have carefully honored the legacy and intent of its visionaries,” says Parks Conservancy President and Chief Executive Officer Meg Cheever. “Visitors will see the grand Central Fountain once again animating the square with choreographed water displays pouring into its nine, 3,500-pound bronze basins, each of which has been repatinated. The signature terrazzo paving has been repaired, and people at street level will see the Cascade Fountain spilling its way through basins along Oliver and Smithfield.”
A $4 million permanent investment fund has been established as part of the $10 million project for long-term maintenance of the Square. This, together with an agreement with the city giving the Parks Conservancy a significant role in the ongoing management and maintenance of the space, will help to ensure that the restored Mellon Square will endure.
Rademacher said the park is meant to serve those living and working in downtown. She noted that the space was intended to be enjoyed two ways, looking below from a towering office or “looking up.” She said the panorama from the Square creates a view of Pittsburgh’s iconic architectural drama.

The rededication and grand reopening of Mellon Square will be Wed., May 28 and Thurs., May 29.  A cocktail reception is planned for the evening of May 28. The public celebration on May 29 will also kickoff the Thursdays at noon summer jazz series in the square.
Source: Pittsburgh Parks Conservatory, Susan Rademacher, Ellis Communications

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
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