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Mount Oliver develops wishlist for possible redevelopment in boro


February 3, 2009

Nearly three dozen Mount Oliver area stakeholders braved the cold and ice last week to participate in a planning process that could eventually change the look of the Hilltop community.

The Hilltop Economic Development Corp. (HEDC) held the planning session which was facilitated by Delta Development Group Inc., headquartered in Mechanicsburg, PA. Among the things the consulting services company specializes in are: community and economic planning, information technology and real estate development and transportation services to public and private sectors, according to its website.

Utilizing four separate focus groups, the facilitators led them in a series of exercises to determine what should be included in the best revitalization strategy to make Mount Oliver a "Great Place to Be."

The first exercise asked each group to make a top 10 list in five categories: Social Center; Image; Great Livability; Access and Linkages; and Business Establishments. Before beginning the facilitators noted that there are no wrong answers or suggestions and encouraged the focus groups to make suggestions about what would improve their community even if it seemed somewhat outrageous at the time.

Suggestions for what would make Mount Oliver a "Great Social Center" included having a greater variety of businesses in the district such as more places to eat, a book store and café. Groups suggested that a multi-use public space or community center would encourage more residents and promote visitors. Others preferred to attract art galleries and a theatre and hold street festivals including more sidewalk sales, ethnic food festivals and farmers' markets as a way to make the borough more livable.

Other participants felt attracting a destination business was a priority along with partnering with nearby neighborhoods on their promotions might attract people to the Hilltop community. Most of the groups also listed safety as a priority and would like to see a greater police presence in the neighborhood.

All four focus groups also named safety as a main concern in indentifying what they want as the "Great Image" for the borough. Tom Plietz from the HEDC noted that they need to change the perception that Mount Oliver is crime ridden.

"Crime isn't just here, it's everywhere," he said. "It's not as bad here as people think."

Other ways to have a better image that drew multiple nodes included improving the mix of retail and service businesses such as locating a supermarket in the neighborhood or a specialty restaurant. Attracting art galleries and the historic nature of many of the buildings in the business district were also seen as positive image builders.

South Pittsburgh artist Johno Prascak suggested a glass enclosed viewing enclosure, "three or four stories high" and made of recycled materials could not only improve Mount Oliver's image but also become a draw to attract visitors to the area.

When discussing the "Great Livability" aspect of the exercise, a reoccurring theme of the evening came up again when all four focus groups named safety as a key component that would encourage people to move into or stay in the borough.

Other pluses in a neighborhood that make is more livable, and that appeared on this wish list for revitalization, included the reoccurring themes of increasing the variety of businesses, specialty food stores, a community center and more community activities. It was also suggested that higher property values or high end condos could help the livability of the neighborhood.

The groups noted that in making the borough more livable it would make it someplace where people want to live, work and play.

Ways to improve and advance the "Great Access" to Mount Oliver were to promote better care of sidewalks in the business district. By fixing up and maintaining the public walkways it would improve their image also. It was also suggested that better signage directing people to the parks, parking and facilities could improve things in the commercial district.

The 51C Carrick bus route, one of the Port Authority's busiest, was noted as an asset to the community along with the proximity to mass transit in general. It was also suggested that having a "Park and Ride" in the neighborhood would draw people in and make it a more attractive place to live.

Suggestions for "Great Business Establishments" that would draw people to or make them want to spend more time in Mount Oliver included several that focus groups noted they already have, such as the Post Office, a local bakery, churches and a hardware store. Other suggestions carried a reoccurring theme of the redevelopment wish list such as a grocery store, book store, café and theatre.

Others suggested their ideal business district would include more professionals (perhaps even a professional building) and sit-down restaurants.

The next exercise in redevelopment was a two-part exercise to identify the top five criteria for site development in Mount Oliver. Utilizing the focus groups, the Delta Development Group facilitators had the group choose which criteria were most important to them.

In order of importance they decided the most important factors in a major redevelopment project would be:

1) On-site parking.

2) Eligibility for development incentives.

3) Proximity to "critical mass" of establishments and amenities.

4) Proximity to arterial/primary roadways.

5) Potential cost of site prep.

In the second part of the exercise, each focus group was to rate five potential development sites chosen by the Hilltop Economic Development Corp. on each of the five criteria discussed. Each potential site was then given a weighted score to determine the best site for a redevelopment project in the borough.

Delta Development Group will take the data they gathered on the sites and prepare a streetscape with potential associated costs and a funding strategy for such a project as well as for the overall business district.


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