“Today, we’re here to measure and document what’s here, and to figure out how to make it better.”
Lisa Whitney said these words in reference to the former Bud’s Hardware building on Warrington Avenue in Allentown, where she and 14 of her students convened with property management and community members on Friday morning.
Ms. Whitney is an interior design faculty member at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh (AIP), and renovation recommendations to Bud’s are her students’ senior projects.
Called the “Urban Studio Project,” Ms. Whitney explained, each year, her syllabus includes some real life experience for her students, where a property is selected, a business relationship is initiated with the property owner/management and AIP students work independently to draft proposals for use renovations to the space.
“Surprisingly, this is an area we haven’t worked in before,” said Ms. Whitney to explain her selection of Allentown as the site for this year’s project. “I’m very eager to see what we can make happen here.”
That vision, Ms. Whitney clarified, she has entrusted and assigned to her students, ten of whom are Advanced Commercial Design students (who will propose interior design renovations), and four of whom are Environmental Design students (who will propose signage and way-finding assets and improvements).
The students will work on their proposals for the remainder of this academic quarter, and will present their ideas to building management in mid-March. The presentation will include boards from each student, displayed at a public event in the building. Ms. Whitney said she looks forward to inviting the community at large to attend, to stop by and celebrate her students’ ideas, ask questions and enjoy a social experience.
According to Ms. Whitney, the goal of the project is not simply to give students hands-on experience, but also, in a greater sense, to provide the property owner with viable options for the building and to ultimately give the community what it needs.
What exactly is it the community needs? It was this question, and variations thereof, that Ms.Whitney’s students posed to property management and Allentown CDC members on Friday morning.
Before pulling out their tape measures, digital cameras and other tools of the trade, the collection of 14 inquisitive minds picked the brains of the community liaisons to assess potential uses for the space, asking about various things from the general shopping and resource needs of locals to the specific historical ethnic composition and demographics of the area.
Potential uses to which attending Allentown CDC members said they could see the space put included a coffeehouse, an art gallery/venue, a bar and an incubator/alpha site.
Joe Calloway, of RE-360, the company that manages the property, said an alpha business has already expressed interest in the building, and could be considered a tentative use. Though, at this point, any use could be considered a tentative use, and Mr. Calloway said he’d make concessions to a business with a good business plan.
One concession he’d be willing to offer is free rent for a coffeehouse.
“Studies have shown that one thing that makes a great neighborhood is a good coffee shop,” he elaborated.
“If someone came to me with the right plan for a good coffee shop, I’d let them use the place rent-free.”
But Mr. Calloway isn’t just looking for the right business to come to him. He’s also looking for one of the AIP students to bring him the right proposal. Be it for a coffeehouse or an incubator, for a bar or something not yet mentioned, Mr. Calloway said he’s open to any business coming into the space and bringing life into the community.
For more information on the project, including updates and photos, search for “Urban Studio Project” on Facebook and look forward to an open presentation invitation in mid-March.