By Tom Smith
South Pittsburgh Reporter Editor 

Hilltop groups get their chance to boast a little bit at annual event


Representatives from Hilltop Alliance member neighborhoods joined government officials and invited guests for the second annual Hilltop Summit, an opportunity to show their peers the work they have been doing in their neighborhoods.

First to make a presentation was John Niederberger representing the Mt. Oliver City/St. Clair Blockwatch.

Mr. Niederberger began by showing slides of the “Welcome to the Hilltop” sign at the corner of Wagner and Mountain streets. An ongoing project of the blockwatch, the sign and its gateway garden act as a portal to the southern Pittsburgh neighborhoods that make up the Hilltop.

Beautification efforts of the blockwatch included planting flowers at the entrance to the former St. Clair Village at Mountain and Cresswell. The Housing Authority property is under consideration as an urban farm by the Hilltop Alliance.

Working with Allegheny Cleanways and University of Pittsburgh students, the blockwatch held several clean-ups in the neighborhood last year, removing hundreds of pounds of trash from the streets and wooded areas. With the assistance of the City of Pittsburgh Public Works department, they were also able to get barriers installed to help prevent dumping in the future.

To increase safety in the neighborhood, the blockwatch installed block watch signs and surveillance cameras in the area. Community volunteers monitor and maintain the cameras.

This summer they began painting a fence along St. Joseph Street. When blockwatch members asked the city to help with part of the project, they offered to finish the painting for them.

“They did an excellent job and we are very grateful to the city for doing the job,” Mr. Niederberger said.

Nicole Stevens and Mechelle Connor from the Beltzhoover Civic Association stepped up next to the podium to talk about their neighborhood.

Their first slide illustrated the clean-ups of the Dr. Louis A. Venson Parklet and the efforts to restore the parklet for community use utilizing a Community Design Center grant. A continuing project, they stressed the need for addition support to finish.

One of the BCA’s ongoing projects is the Feed the Community Campaign, a free once a month dinner held at the Warrington Recreation Center. The program operates from April through Thanksgiving and takes the winter off due to weather concerns.

Upcoming activities for them include their Lunch with Santa on December 7 and the Beltzhoover Light Up Night at Venson Parklet the following evening on December 8.

Brandon Dilla representing the Carrick Community Council (CCC) addressed their current activities.

The first project they talked about was the Dairy District, in collaboration with Economic Development South (EDS).

“The hopes of this project is that eventually we’ll be able to have a small commercial cluster that’s a dairy themed destination, maybe a café, a factory, a direct dairy store, or a candy shop maybe with a production aspect to it as well as a restaurant. Things like that,” Mr. Dilla said. The project is currently in Phase Two, the design phase.

He said they are trying to “amp up” their out reach to community members with a number of informational meetings. They are also increasing their use of Facebook with a link to the organization’s website.

Utilizing a grant from the Birmingham Foundation, the CCC has produced an informational brochure they plan to mail to residents of the community.

Another project they are working on in conjunction with EDS is a senior highrise on the site of the former Giant Eagle supermarket on Brownsville Road. A developer plans to build a 66-unit apartment building for seniors at the location.

The CCC is also supporting the construction of another senior living project at the former Overbrook Middle School site off of Rt. 51. They are cooperating with EDS and the Overbrook Community Council on the project.

The CCC’s Beautification Committee continues its work at a number community gardens throughout the neighborhood. As many as 70 volunteers have contributed to the gardens.

The Public Safety Committee with the Carrick/Overbrook Block Watch has gotten involved and has shown an increase in 911 calls and attendance at the monthly meetings.

Annually, they host the Communities Against Crime, an event similar to National Night Out, but along Brownsville Road encouraging neighbors and businesses to come out in a demonstration of their commitment against crime.

Rick Hopkinson from the Hilltop Economic Development Corp. (HEDC) wanted to touch briefly on where the HEDC was in 2013 and where they are going in 2014.

Each year for the last five years the HEDC has hosted a car cruise along Brownsville Road with children’s activities, sidewalk sales and entertainment. The businesses are able to participate at no cost.

They updated their website this year and linked it to Facebook.

The biggest thing this year, he said, was the application for the state’s Neighborhood Partnership Program. EDS applied for and received a grant facilitating the application for the program.

“This is a big game changer,” he said. “We have the opportunity to get up to $3 million over a six-year period.”

Some of the money will go to senior and youth programs some to staff support, but a lot of it will be for commercial revitalization in the Knoxville/Mt. Oliver Brownsville Road corridor, he said.

Mr. Hopkinson also talked about the increase in activity of the Mt. Oliver Block Group. The group is also involved beautification efforts and is a real “grass roots” effort to make things better in the borough.

Speaking on their major program areas for the Mount Washington Community Development Corp. was James Eash, director of economic development.

Several years ago, with the help of a consultant, the MWCDC developed a 10-year housing strategy and broke their neighborhood up into micro-neighborhoods. Their work is now based on the recommendations that came out of the strategy.

Their real estate involvement comes in two areas:

Facilitation and review, which is typically for larger projects is the first area. They will encourage a developer to come into a project; match a developer with a building; provide design review; or facilitate public input for projects.

Investment and development is the other major area. As an organization, the MWCDC is actively involved in acquiring properties, working with contractors and development partners to typically renovate residential properties for sale to owner occupants.

The bulk of their budget goes to park and trail development in Emerald View Park, a 260-acre group of smaller parks wraps around Mount Washington and Duquesne Heights. Currently there are about 10 miles of hiking trails in the park, when completed they will have more than 20 miles of trails that wrap around the neighborhoods.

“No matter where you are in the neighborhood, you’ll never be more than a five minute walk to an active green space,” Mr. Eash said. The MWCDC is responsible for implementing Emerald View Park’s Master Plan.

The MWCDC’s Trail Corp is a group of about 20 men and women who are hired seasonally, trained and managed in-house to do the trail building and maintenance as well as anything else that comes with maintaining the Master Plan.

Some of their highlights from the past year include: building two miles of new trails through untouched wooded areas utilizing only hand tools; the planting of 800 trees in the parks; and, the removing of 25,000 pounds of garbage.

Their other focus areas are business district development and marketing and promotion for the neighborhood.

Moss Clark and Brian Oswald from the South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association highlighted their work in South Side Park, the 64.8 acre park that covers almost 15 percent of their neighborhood.

“Repurposing a green space that was basically a dumping ground,” Mr. Clark said. “Mainly an activity center as far as off-road bikes and or hunting ground into a park we can all use.”

Mr. Oswald explained about two years ago they put a community garden in an old ballfield on the Slopes, which now has 90 plots and a waiting list of more than 100 people. He credits the garden for getting their organization’s momentum going with the park.

Some of the activities they’ve been doing in the park include trail building, adding signage, removing invasive species and promoting positive uses throughout the area. This year they created a new mile and a half trail and are working on raising money to add signage.

The group has been working with the Student Conservation Association and volunteers from Carnegie Mellon University on the trail building and removing of invasive plant species. Other volunteer days have included neighborhood residents along with students from Duquesne University and the University of Pittsburgh.

This coming year the SSSNA will use a $45,000 grant from Pittsburgh Partnership for Neighborhood Development for trail development in conjunction with the MWCDC, invasive species removal with the Student Conservation Association and community outreach with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.

“After we make the park perfect,” Mr. Oswald said. “We have other projects in front of us.”

They would like to focus on the entrance to the neighborhood including the 21st Street corridor off of Josephine Street. In addition, the SSSNA would like to do something with the site of the former ice rink in the park.

“We would like to marry all these parks together so that our park is much cooler than Frick and Schenley parks,” he said.

The final organization to present was the Allentown Community Development Corp. with Judy Hackel.

“I think what I’ve heard here is that all the organizations have to partner with someone to get things done and Allentown has done the same thing,” she began. Some of their partners include the MWCDC, the Hilltop Alliance, the City of Pittsburgh and the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

The Allentown CDC celebrated the completion of the reconstruction of East Warrington Avenue this year. In addition, she emphasized a renewed interest in the business district with potential businesses exploring what space is available for them in the neighborhood.

New housing will be also coming to the neighborhood with new single family homes and an apartment building under way at the top of Beltzhoover Avenue on the border of Grandview Park.

Fun events that have taken place in the community included a celebration of the opening of Warrington Avenue with local residents enjoying the music of Allentown resident Phat Man Dee and her band, the Cultural District, and the annual Friends of Grandview Park’s Farm Dinner.

She told about the senior design students from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh taking on a project to illustrate their visions for what a vacant storefront on Warrington Avenue could be. Examples included an ice cream parlor, Asian restaurant or childcare/recreational facility.

The building, the former Pahler Hardware Store, was revisioned and opened as the Hardware Store, a shared environment for small high-tech startup businesses. The ACDC has contracted with several of the new businesses in the Hardware Store to create a new website and a promotional video for the organization.

Additional businesses that have opened or relocated to Allentown included the evening’s cater, Sweet Peaches; RE360, a real estate company; and, Stretch’s, a neighborhood tavern.

The ACDC’s safety initiative continued this year along the businesses corridor with additional businesses taking advantage of the mini grants to install lighting, surveillance cameras or security gates. To date, almost 20 businesses have participated in the initiative.

Ms. Hackel talked briefly about the community and gateway gardens in the neighborhood including the gateway garden at Arlington and Warrington avenues that was maintained with help from the Allegheny County Adult Probation Center and the community garden that utilized volunteers from the Allentown Pop-up Library and Brashear Association.

Additionally, G-Tech Strategies has chosen a lot at the corner of Arlington and Knox avenues as the demonstration project site for their ReClaim South vacant lot reclamation project.


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