Hilltop Alliance staff making progress in the Allentown area
Siena Kane, Allentown business district manager for the Hilltop Alliance, updates residents on the positive change coming to the Warrington Avenue corridor at the February meeting of the Allentown CDC.
Good news and positive energy were presented by members of the Hilltop Alliance team working in Allentown.
Tim Dolan, Property Stabilization Program manager, and Siena Kane, Allentown business district manager, were the featured speakers at the Allentown Community Development Corp. public meeting last week at The Hardware Store.
Mr. Dolan has been manager of the Property Stabilization Program for the past two years. The program first began as the Hilltop Alliance's Vacant Property Task Force in 2012, which was modeled after a similar Cleveland program where residents came together to talk about problems they had in common and ways they could work through them.
The first Wednesday of each month, Mr. Dolan meets with community members at the Hilltop Alliance offices, 512 Brownsville Road, where they submit problematic properties. Problems they have tackled range from overgrown yards to how to get help for a disabled neighbor with property maintenance challenges.
The open meetings have grown from as few as four people when Mr. Dolan started to more than a dozen including representatives from Councilman Bruce Kraus' office and Zone 3 police.
Although open to all city of Pittsburgh Hilltop neighborhood members, attendance is strong from the Allentown, Knoxville, Mt. Oliver City/St. Clair and South Side Slopes communities.
"Most of the problems I deal with are in those areas, because those are the ones at the table," Mr. Dolan said. He added everyone is welcome, but asks they rsvp to him at email@example.com or 412-586-5807 because a light dinner is provided at the meetings.
The Hilltop Alliance also participates in a Neighborhood Partnership Program (NPP) in Allentown. The NPP is a comprehensive services program through the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development which partners businesses with communities. Partners in the Allentown NPP are Dollar Bank, PNC Bank and UPMC Health Plan.
Mr. Dolan noted some of the things the NPP contributes funding to through the Hilltop Alliance in the neighborhood are the Fresh Fridays program bringing free produce to neighborhood residents on the second Friday of each month, April through November; business district development; and, targeted property stabilization in Allentown.
The Alliance also received a grant from an anonymous source for façade improvements in a targeted area of the neighborhood. Homeowners in owner-occupied homes in a section of the "Grandview South" part of Allentown will soon be able to apply for a matching grant of up to $5,000 to make façade improvements.
The micro-neighborhood of Grandview South in Allentown is in the northern part of the neighborhood, below Grandview Park including portions of McLain, Allen, Millbridge and Eureka streets.
Mr. Dolan said they are preparing materials that will soon be mailed out to all eligible homeowners in the area of the neighborhood. The pool of money available is limited, so there is an application process involved.
The next Property Stabilization Program meeting is on Wednesday, March 4, 6:30 p.m. at the Hilltop Alliance offices. Contact Mr. Dolan if planning to attend.
Since late October of last year, Ms. Kane has been working in the Allentown Business District for the Hilltop Alliance. Since then, she has been concentrating working with existing businesses and attracting new businesses to the Warrington Avenue corridor.
She has also been working businesses to invest in their properties to make façade improvements to make the corridor more attractive for their, as well as, new businesses.
One of the more attractive programs she has to offer is a rent abatement program for new businesses. Eligible businesses moving into Allentown can apply to have half their rent paid for, up to $400, for a year. Eligibility is guided by the most recent update of the Allentown Neighborhood Plan, which is available at http://www.pghhilltopalliance.org or http://www.allentowncdc.org.
Some of the businesses identified in the plan included: a coffee shop, a bakery, a destination bar/restaurant and companies that produce fresh food.
Ms. Kane announced plans to bring Farm Fresh Foods into the business district beginning in the spring. Each week, a farm truck will bring fresh produce, meats and eggs to Allentown.
She said in addition to bringing fresh food to the neighborhood, it's hoped by bringing the service to the neighborhood it will generate more traffic for the business district.
Ms. Kane is also working on two events for Warrington Avenue: one will be a "pop-up" bar or restaurant event planned for the spring and a second "signature" event for the fall. Details of both events are still evolving.
She was asked by a member of the audience if there has been any interest in new businesses coming into the neighborhood.
"Yes," she replied. A coffee shop had already submitted an application for the rent abatement and other businesses such as a drop-off dry cleaners and micro-brew pub were considering locations.
"Unfortunately, what I'm learning is that people are showing interest, but there are a lot of obstacles in starting a business that people see. But there is interest in Allentown," she said.
There are also small "sponsorship" grants available to help businesses pay for signage or lighting around their property.
Ms. Kane is also available to act as a liaison for businesses as they apply for permits from the city. She can help guide them through the permitting process.
Another project she will is working on is to begin surveying property owners on Allen Street from East Warrington to Climax Street. An Allentown business owner has proposed converting part of Allen Street into two-ways from the current one-way configuration.
Ms. Kane will be petitioning property owners in the blocks to gauge their support for the change. The survey is the first step in petitioning the city to making the change to two-ways.
She said depending on the feedback, they may ask for the change up to Industry Street or all the way to Climax Street.
The petition will allow the city traffic engineer to do a traffic study of the street and determine if it is able to be changed to two-ways and what that will entail as far as traffic and parking for the street.
Ms. Kane can be contacted by calling the Hilltop Alliance or at firstname.lastname@example.org.