Economic Development South (EDS) is making its mark on six South Hills municipalities and three South Pittsburgh neighborhoods.
Speaking before members of the Carrick Business Association, Greg Jones, executive director of EDS, explained the organization is focused on the major commercial corridors serving Brentwood, Baldwin, Whitehall, Mount Oliver, Jefferson Hills and Pleasant Hills along with the city neighborhoods of Carrick, Overbrook and Brookline.
Started about 15 years ago with Brentwood, Baldwin and Whitehall, EDS was an all-volunteer organization up until a little over three years ago when Mr. Jones was hired to be its first executive director.
“Historically these types of organizations were created, they might have done a project and they sort of disappeared,” he said. “To their credit they kept it around, without any staff, but they kept it around as a conversation between municipalities, just on what each one was doing; Trying to find ways to work together in an economic development perspective.”
He said over the last 15 or 20 years the municipalities were doing plan after plan after plan without much implementation. There were a lot of good ideas put forth, but not much was getting done.
When EDS became a staffed organization, Mr. Jones was the only employee working out of a one-room office.
From those humble beginnings, they now have four employees and will probably hire an additional two more this year and just raised their one millionth dollar in project and initiative money. The territory EDS covers includes 100,000 residents, 3,200 businesses and is about one-tenth of Allegheny County.
He expects they will be one of the largest community development organizations in the county by the end of the year.
There are several reasons for their growth, the need for redevelopment along Brownsville Road and the Rt. 51 corridor is evident he explained. Another problem was hesitation of people to work across municipalities, county to city.
He said there was an attitude where people from one neighborhood or municipality weren’t willing to work with people from another.
“I had to come out and say nobody really cares about those distinctions. They know that Mt. Lebanon is great and Upper St. Clair has some money, but everything else is generically South Hills or South Pittsburgh and if we’re not all cooperating and marketing the shared advantages that we have it’s a zero sum game because everyone’s losing out.”
The member communities each have a different level of capacity. Using Brentwood as an example, he said they have about 6,000 people and a mayor, a council, a planning director, planning commission, and code enforcement officer while right next door is Carrick which is nearly three times the size and has a neighborhood group that doesn’t always meet every month.
“You see that start to manifest itself when you drive down the Brownsville Road corridor and you can tell what neighborhood you’re in by looking at the street lights or the (parking) meters. And you have these things that are completely functional business districts with sort of strange investment decisions made because of one being in the city and one being in the county.
“So our argument was, our whole mission was going to be: We’re not going to pay attention to political boundaries, not any attention to municipal boundaries. We’re just going to figure out the right scale to do a project and then we’re going to do it at that scale.”
Instead of all of the member communities asking for one thing and maybe every couple of years they’ll get something, they take the strategy of all the communities asking for the same thing. This way instead of a series of small investments every couple of years, they’ll now get an impactful investment every year he continued.
Mr. Jones said it was an easy sell to the members. All he had to do was explain a major project in a neighbor’s community could have a bigger impact on all the members than a smaller project in each one would have.
Mr. Jones said traditionally groups like his did real estate development. While they still do real estate development, they have branched out into other tasks such as environmental projects and initiatives, marketing initiatives, small business services and transit/transportation projects.
One project EDS is working on is a multi-modal transportation center for Rt. 51. In the area, they have the bus way and light rail system along with 40,000 cars a day going through the Rt. 51 and Rt. 88 intersection “because there’s no other way to move through it.”
A parking demand study confirmed they could park close to 3,000 cars a day near the intersection with drivers hoping on the light rail system into town.
“We could never build 3,000 spaces, we would build 400 spaces and be able to charge some money then use that money to help do maybe 40,000 or 50,000 of office space associated with it,” he said.
They are working with two developers on the project and if successful it could be a $35 million project if successful. The Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh has already contributed nearly $200,000 toward the project.
EDS’s second biggest project is the Dairy District along Brownsville Road. They want to celebrate that “we still make things in the city.”
He compared it with the BreadWorks on the Northside, a destination business serving as not only a factory, but a retail outlet people from all over the region travel to buy fresh bread products.
EDS has already raised more than $300,000 toward the Dairy District project which will feature a variety of retail and restaurants in addition to the Colteryahn Dairy.
“All of them have this idea that you can walk in and you can see things getting made and you can buy it fresh off the assembly line or right out of the machine,” he said.
They are also working with the Mid-Atlantic Dairy Association on things like “Cheese Week” or “Yogurt Week” where they will bring in rural members to show their products and have an opportunity to sell them in an urban market.
They’re now getting into the next stage of design and hopefully will be in construction on some components of it by the first of the year. All in all, it will take two to three years to complete the entire project.
EDS is also working in the area around 2600-2800 blocks of Brownsville Road, the transition area from Carrick to Brentwood. Although it’s a functioning business district, each side of the street has its own design elements with no coordination between the two.
EDS is in the third step of applying for a State Main Street District designation for the area. The designation will open the door to façade grants, anchor building revitalization grants up to $500,000 and a higher level of façade grants for strategic buildings.
The Overbrook School building on Rt. 51 is another project EDS is working with a developer on. The developer would like to put an assisted living facility in the school and senior housing on the ball fields next to the building. The whole thing would be a senior campus.
The plans include a pedestrian walkway and a footbridge over to the light rail stop.
“We think we’ll be able to get shovels in the ground by the end of summer,” Mr. Jones said. “That will be about a $25 million investment and 100 new jobs.”