South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Tom Smith
South Pittsburgh Reporter Editor 

MWCDC prepares for changes in the way they operate

 


The May Community Forum of the Mt. Washington Community Development Corporation (MWCDC) included a celebration of departing staff members and updates concerning the future of the organization.

Talia Piazza, MWCDC Parks and Conservation Committee chair, reported late last year the organization began discussions with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy to see “what a partnership would look like.”

She recapped that the MWCDC’s executive director Ilyssa Manspeizer and the Emerald Trail Corps are no longer part the organization having left to form the Pittsburgh Conservation Corps and work city-wide.

“(Emerald View Park) is to the point now where it’s been designated a regional park. It’s getting a ton of attention. There are great trails. It’s a community asset and we were at a point where we thought it would make more sense for an organization that does park management as part of their mission to take the reins and lift up the park and make it better than what it is currently,” Ms. Piazza said.

Over the past several months the MWCDC, through a community and Board of Directors process, explored what a potential partnership might look like. An existing agreement between the Parks Conservancy and a Northside group was used as a starting point to develop a partnership between the conservancy, the MWCDC and the community.

Ms. Piazza said they are almost ready to formally formulate the partnership. One concern was to make sure the community had input into the park and that the park remains a community asset. There’s a “ton a language” in the agreement strongly preserving the community’s role in programing, the priorities in planning and projects in the park.

“That is going to remain the same,” she said.

Members of the MWCDC will continue to staff the parks’ committee, which will be renamed the Emerald View Park Committee. The process to volunteer or get involved with a program in the park will remain the same.

Ms. Piazza will serve as the chair of the Emerald View Park Committee. As part of the agreement, Park Development and Conservation Director Kathryn Hunninen and Park Manager Judith Koch moved on to work for the Parks Conservancy beginning on June 1 to work primarily on Emerald View Park.

The MWCDC will receive a seat on the conservancy’s Board of Directors and also on the Community Outreach Committee.

“That will be two points of influence to make sure that the Mt. Washington residents’ voice is heard and that we have a continued say and participation in what happens in the park,” she added.

Ms. Piazza said this is a positive for Emerald View Park because of the expertise and the fund raising capacity of the conservancy. “This is going to make our park better.”

Amanda Rubio will serve on the conservancy’s board of directors and Ms. Piazza on the Community Outreach Committee pending approval of the conservancy’s board.

MWCDC Board Member Mike Grande addressed those in attendance about the Economic Development Committee and “some of the evolving things you may be hearing parts of in the community and I’m not sure you’ve been hearing the right stuff.”

As a board they have been working on economic development and how to complete the Five-Year Plan, which still has a couple of years left.

“I’ve been hearing this out in the community and I want to put a stop to it, we’re not going away as an organization,” Mr. Grande said.

What they have been doing, is trying to figure out how to partner with other similar organizations in the same geographic area. They have reached out to the Southwest Pittsburgh CDC, Economic Development South and the Hilltop Alliance to explore a possible partnership.

Discussions will include how to join efforts to save money, seek out funding together, possibly combine programing and/or share staff. The MWCDC recently received a grant from the Forbes Fund to hire a consultant to facilitate the discussions.

They expect to have a consultant hired by the end of June.

“Out of the conversations (with the other organizations), we’re looking out for the best for the community and the best for the Mt. Washington CDC,” Mr. Grande said.

To a question about what will happen to the MWCDC’s offices, Mr. Grande explained their lease is up at the end of the year. Discussions with the other organizations will include whether there is shared staff and if those staff will be located in Mt. Washington in the current space or if they will need a smaller office.

“We’re shooting to have this completed by early fall, by then we should know if we’re going to stay or not in that building,” he said. “Maybe there would be a chance there would be a shared staff member housed there.”

He said the committee has looked at all the expenses of the organization in their evaluation. One thing that will change is that the Neighbors on the Mount will take over the viewfinders on Grandview Avenue.

“It will matter a lot more to their organization than it will to the CDC, the money that comes in, in the big picture,” he added.

Mr. Grande also explained the reason the MWCDC hasn’t attempted to hire a new executive director. Without knowing what the organization is going to look like in six months, they didn’t feel it was appropriate to bring in someone at this time.

In concluding his presentation, Mr. Grande stressed every board member expressed they didn’t want the MWCDC to “go away.”

After the brief business meeting, the MWCDC acknowledged and celebrated the work of its three departing staff members: Ms. Hunninen, Ms. Koch and administrative assistant Alphonso Randolph.

Ms. Koch has been the park manager for the past two years and has taken a position with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy. Ms. Hunninen, had been with the MWCDC since August 2010 and has also moved over to the Parks Conservancy.

Mr. Randolph has been the “community face of the organization” for 11 years and was the Dollar Energy Fund coordinator.

 

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