South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Austin Vaught
Contributing Writer 

MWCDC moving to new digs in May

 


The Mount Washington Community Development Corporation (MWCDC) is moving to a new home inside of Haven Heights Methodist Church on Virginia Avenue to make way for a souvenir shop that is expected to open in its current Shiloh Street location sometime this summer.

The move was announced by board president Michael Grande at last Thursday’s MWCDC Community Forum meeting. According to Mr. Grande, the move will allow the MWCDC to continue its operations without paying rent as a result of an agreement with the new owners of Haven Heights Methodist Church.

The MWCDC is expected to officially open its new office space on May 30.

Mr. Grande said the MWCDC worked with its landlord to identify possible tenants for its current office at 301 Shiloh Street and discovered a local tenant who is planning to open a souvenir retail location this summer.

According to a press release from the MWCDC, the organization’s contact information will remain the same and phone, fax numbers and email addresses will remain operational during the transition.

Last Thursday’s community forum also gave residents the chance to brainstorm new projects for economic development, real estate development, amenities, and events to incorporate into the MWCDC’s future strategic plan.

According to Mr. Grande, the strategic planning process started in January with a community happy hour at Bingham Tavern where an initial round of community feedback was collected. The second step was an off-site board retreat in early March.

Last Thursday’s meeting was the second phase of the community input process, and a third one will take place before the plan is finalized. The organization is also contracting with an external consulting firm to assist with the strategic plan.

Residents were divided into three groups where they suggested project ideas across three categories: economic development, real estate development, and a wildcard category for ideas related to events and amenities.

As ideas were proposed, board members were on hand to create a working list that will be used to influence a five to ten-year strategic plan for the organization.

“We’re going to boil this down and determine what is feasible and what makes sense for us to prioritize as an organization,” Talia Piazza, board vice president said.

Mr. Grande led the discussion on economic development and inquired about the type of businesses the community would like to see on Shiloh Street, Virginia Avenue, and the Boggs-Bailey Corridor.

Among the dozens of ideas suggested were a hardware store, a veterinary office, an urgent care center, and a variety of professional services. A resident also stressed the importance of bringing in businesses that would attract young professionals and couples to the area.

“What’s your vision of the type of businesses needed to support that demographic?” Mr. Grande replied.

Mr. Grande also said while there is a great deal of opportunity around economic development, it’s important to do it in a way that continues to make the neighborhood an affordable place to live.

“We’re trying to avoid what happened in Lawrenceville,” Mr. Grande said. “One moment, no one wanted to buy a house there. The next moment, no one could afford to buy a house there.”

MWCDC board member Greg Panza led the discussion around real estate development and said the organization will continue to work with the city to acquire and rehabilitate tax delinquent properties in the community.

Mr. Panza said the project has had a ripple effect on community development. As homes with brand new features are released into the market, surrounding neighbors become motivated to fix or upgrade their properties as well.

Community members suggested a variety of assistance programs to provide funding to residents looking to fix-up their homes. Also discussed were volunteer property maintenance programs to help with landscaping and snow removal. Some residents also suggested a focused marketing initiative for the neighborhood as a whole.

Among ideas suggested in the “wildcard” group were a street car on Grandview Avenue, a Ferris wheel, a zip line to Heinz Field, a completed trail system, a farmers’ market, and a music festival.

Following the brainstorming session, a discussion about the future of 131 Shiloh Street was led by building owners Jacob and Richard Machel.

According to Jacob Machel, the building is being renovated and future tenants are being considered. During the process, he’d like to collect community input to determine the best tenant for the community.

“Everyone sees it as an eyesore on a great street,” Richard Machel said. “Even if it sits empty for another year, being able to do something with it will help that street.”

Several residents expressed concerns about bringing in another liquor license to Shiloh Street and asked about previous rumors about a proposed nightclub tenant.

Jacob Machel said there are no plans to bring in a nightclub tenant and that he’d like to “eliminate that concern.” A couple of residents suggested an art gallery, office space, or a coffee shop as alternatives.

Jacob Machel also said once the construction is complete, the property will be about 4,000 square feet and they’d be seeking a tenant who is able to pay approximately $18 per square foot. He said the most likely scenario would be a food concept that will also carry a liquor license.

Several residents, along with Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith, stressed the importance of working with the community on the final plan. The Machels agreed to come back to future community forums as the plan evolves.

A business open house at Sullivan Hall will take the place of the MWCDC’s May Community Forum meeting on May 18. Mount Washington businesses will be on hand to network with community members.

 

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