South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Tom Smith
South Pittsburgh Reporter Editor 

Summit brings neighborhoods together to celebrate successes


Last updated 12/1/2014 at 6:20pm

Rachelle Ogun, secretary of the Hilltop Economic Development Corporation, presented the work of the HEDC during the Hilltop Summit. The annual summit brings together the member organizations of the Hilltop Alliance and invited guests to share the work each organization is doing in its neighborhood.

The third annual Hilltop Summit brought together nearly 100 representatives of Pittsburgh's Hilltop communities along with guests and elected officials to hear what has been happening in the neighborhoods over the past year.

The summit, held this year at the St. Paul AME Church in Knoxville, is organized annually by the Hilltop Alliance (HA).

"From January through May of this past year, our board discussed and came up with a new mission," began Aaron Sukenik, executive director of the Alliance. "That new mission is to preserve and create assets in the Hilltop community through collaboration and coordination of resources."

He said throughout the evening, the mission would remain a central theme.

As the first presenter, Mr. Sukenik said while 2013 was a transition year for the Hilltop Alliance, 2014 was a transformational year. Over the last year, the Alliance has focused on community asset based programs and projects with measurable outcomes and meaningful partnerships.

The Property Stabilization Program features a monthly meeting where community members can report problematic properties. The properties are documented and photographed and the owner is contacted about remediating the problems.

Since beginning last July, almost 170 properties have come through the program with a nearly 35 percent issue resolution rate.

At last year's summit, the Alliance discussed its undertaking of a Hilltop urban farm feasibility study with Grow Pittsburgh and the Penn State Cooperative Extension. The study was completed in July and turned into a much larger Master Plan.

The Alliance then connected with green builder and developer Ernie Sota who was interested in pursuing a residential housing development anchored around a farm. The HA's website hosts a survey where area residents can provide input concerning the urban farm,

Through the next year, they plan to continue to refine the plan and work toward acquiring the site.

In the Allentown-Beltzhoover Housing Market Restoration Strategy completed near the end of last year, the Haberman corridor was identified as a key connective asset. The corridor of pavement, woods and steps connects McKinley Park on one side with Warrington Recreation Center and the South Hill Junction on the other.

Soon a public process will begin to create a public greenway in the corridor which could catalyze development on many of the vacant lots adjacent to Haberman. A planning and design firm will soon be contracted with to complete that plan.

Parallel to that plan, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy will be a partner in developing a Master Plan for McKinley Park, combining the community planning process for both projects.

One of the biggest projects for the Hilltop Alliance is managing the Allentown Neighborhood Partnership Program (ANPP). The program is bringing $1.5 million in funding to the Allentown community over six years.

Components of the program include:

Fresh Fridays, the once a month free produce distribution held in conjunction with the Saint John Vianney Food Pantry on the second Friday of each month April through November. Over the last year, the program has served almost 10,000 people.

Stabilizing and renovating properties in need of assistance in a target area of the Allentown neighborhood.

Revitalizing the Warrington Avenue business district through new business development and property reinvestment grants.

Other service providers providing programing in the ANPP include: the Brashear Association with the Neighborhood Employment Center and the Allentown Learning and Engagement Center (ALEC); the Hilltop Computer Center will operate computer literacy programs out of the ALEC; the Mount Washington Community Development Corporation will be a partner for residential redevelopment projects in the target area of the neighborhood.

Mr. Sukenik also acknowledged other organizations which have worked in the Hilltop neighborhoods including: GTECH with the Reclaim South program and NeighborWorks of Western Pennsylvania and their Neighborhood Leadership Development cohort program.

Following Mr. Sukenik's presentation each of the Hilltop Alliance member organizations presented their neighborhood's accomplishments for 2014.

First up was Allentown Community Development Corp. and presenters Tom Smith and Josh Lucas. Mr. Smith, president of the ACDC, opened by saying much has happened in the neighborhood in addition to the work of the organization.

"That makes us that more of a vibrant community," he said.

Through their short slide presentation, he noted some of the successes and the challenges that happened over the year including the fire that damaged the Hilltop United Methodist Church which also housed the Allentown Senior Center – a neighborhood asset.

Others doing work in the neighborhood included the Friends of Grandview Park, the Fresh Friday initiative and the hiring of Sienna Kane, the Allentown business district manager through the Hilltop Alliance.

He noted the visit by Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development officials to the ALEC and The Hardware Store prior to Allentown being awarded the Neighborhood Partnership Program (NPP).

Mr. Lucas, an ACDC board member and founder of The Hardware Store, mentioned GTECH and the two Reclaim South projects happening in the neighborhood along with Forest City Enterprises volunteers coming up to work on one of the neighborhood's gateway gardens.

He also talked about the "thousands of people" who will be coming to Allentown to come to The Hardware Store for technology related businesses and events.

Mechelle Connor and Nicole Stephens, representing the Beltzhoover Civic Association (BCA), began their presentation saying their project to renovate the Dr. Louis A. Venson Mini-Park is continuing. Partnering with the Design Center and the City of Pittsburgh, the BCA hopes to have the project completed in the spring.

Ms. Connor spoke about a luau held for the neighborhood in the mini-park along with their monthly Feed the Community free dinner for any Hilltop resident at Warrington Recreation Center. The dinner is funded through donations and sometimes "out of our own pockets" she said.

The BCA also hosts an annual Lunch with Santa for neighborhood kids. At the free event, the children receive lunch, a photo with Santa and, whenever possible, a toy. The group will end the year with a Light-Up Night with a donated Christmas Tree which will be decorated and stay up through January.

Narrating the Carrick Community Council's presentation was the CCC's president, John Rudiak.

He began by congratulating one of their board members, Linda Donahue, being named the Tree Pittsburgh Volunteer of the Year for 2014. Throughout the year, she organizes many of tree tendering events for the Carrick.

Mr. Rudiak noted the Love Your Block Grant that was awarded for Leolyn Parklet. "Everyone helps take care of this park," he said.

Another first for Carrick and the City of Pittsburgh is the "virtual block watch." A dozen merchants in one section of Brownsville Road have agreed to place cameras outside their businesses. The images on the cameras will be able to be accessed by the police if something occurs in the neighborhood that needs reviewed.

The CCC worked with the courts, the Allegheny County Health Department, Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak's Office and the city Bureau of Building Inspection to close down the Berg Place apartments to remedy unhealthy living conditions. They are currently working with a developer to possibly have the apartments taken over and converted into a community center.

Another successful event for the CCC was the annual Community Cornfest at Phillips Park in conjunction with Overbrook. With more 50 vendors and 500 visitors, the Cornfest is anticipated each year.

Rachelle Ogun, secretary of the Hilltop Economic Development Corporation (HEDC), pointed out their work in Mount Oliver Borough and Knoxville over the past year.

"The theme of this presentation is partnerships, like a lot of the other neighborhoods have discussed," she began.

A continuing project for them has been for Ormsby Park improvements. Most recently the HEDC has received grants from the PNC and Laurel foundations which will allow them to add benches, pavilions and ADA accessibility to the playground among other improvements.

The first community garden plantings at Transverse Park took place this year with the help of Grow Pittsburgh, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and GTECH. She noted the garden had a great deal of support from the Bhutanese community and the Mount Oliver Block Watch and beautification groups.

A festival was held at the end of the season to celebrate the success of the garden.

Ms. Ogun said the HEDC has been trying for several years to gain funding for the Brownsville Road streetscape and was finally successful this year when they were awarded a Multi-Modal Transportation Fund Grant of $125,000.

Last, but not least she said, the HEDC partnered with Economic Development South to apply for and was awarded an NPP program for Mount Oliver Borough, Knoxville and part of Carrick. The focus will be business development in the Brownsville Road corridor in the communities.

A business development manager will soon be hired to help businesses in the corridor. In addition, other parts of the program include: park improvements, work force development and social service programs.

"Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears," began Suzanne Niederberger Photos, coordinator of the Mount Oliver City/Saint Clair Block Watch.

Opening her presentation she showed her pride in the organization's signature project, the Welcome to the Hilltop sign and flagpole at Mountain and Wagner streets. The flagpole was added this year and additional funding is being applied for to provide lighting.

Three members of the block watch also participated as ambassadors in the GTECH Reclaim South program: Ms. Photos, John Niederberger and Patti Steward. Together they worked on three project: the Saint Joseph's Garden at the corner of Ormsby and St. Joseph streets, Patti's Point at the corner of Mountain and Parkwood Road and Gamestop on the Corner at Mountain and Fisher Street.

"We worked on city properties that needed to be revitalized," Ms. Photos said. She noted the Gamestop project is still a work in progress although they have placed durable stone chess boards and cornhole games. More funding is needed to complete the project.

The final slide in her presentation was of the Ormsby Avenue Café, an "old" business in the neighborhood that has been reborn as a new café and meeting place "where everyone knows your name." She noted the owners also bought and plan to renovate the former Bishop Leonard School building close to the café.

Up next to talk about what the Mount Washington Community Development Corporation has done over the last year was MWCDC immediate past president Jon Lusin.

"Our larger projects are parks and conservation and our real estate projects," he said, but they are also doing a lot with signing up people with the Dollar Energy Fund.

The MWCDC also recently completed an intensive interview process with area residents to learn what was "right with the neighborhood, what was wrong with the neighborhood." The CDC also continued to advocate with government officials on behalf of the community.

The MWCDC installed 10 new interpretive signs along the Grand View Scenic Byway and improved the landscaping at the Point of View Bluff.

One of the more interesting projects, he said, was working with a private developer on a plan for community access to a historic Civil War site adjacent to Emerald View Park.

"Our staff worked with (the developer) closely to come up with a plan that incorporates the history of the site and at the same time allows for economic development in our neighborhood," Mr. Lusin added.

The MWCDC removed 30,000 pounds of debris from the park and planted 280 shrubs and trees. Nearly 2,000 hours volunteer hours were donated in the community to Emerald View Park projects, worth $43,000 in in-kind services.

In economic development, the MWCDC completed three new residential renovations and created a future pipeline of 14 residential renovation projects. They completed one streetface renovation project and began development of five additional projects while interfacing with more than 50 businesses, providing technical assistance, connection to resources and marketing support.

South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association (SSSNA) board member Brad Palmisiano began his presentation by saying the organization concentrated on gaining grants for South Side Park and other neighborhood amenities to make the Slopes a place "where people want to live."

One of the biggest accomplishments, he said, was gaining a $45,000 grant enabling them to engage a group of partners in making the 65 acre park a neighborhood asset instead of a "largely forgotten green space." Taking the best practices from their partners on the project, the Brashear Association, the MWCDC's Emerald View Trail Corps, the Student Conservation Association and the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, the SSSA was able to effect change and get people into the park.

Some of the work in the park included revamping more than half the existing trail system to improving the condition and the slope; removing suffocating vines and invasive garlic mustard along with litter and dumpsite cleanup efforts.

"I'm thrilled to say we've really started to make an impact on this park," Mr. Palmisiano said.

Coming up, the SSSNA received a $100,000 grant from the Allegheny County Community Infrastructure and Tourism Fund for public stairway repairs in 2015. They will be working with the city Department of City Planning to target the work to the most important staircases in the neighborhood.


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