New manager sparks interest in Warrington Avenue
New businesses see opportunity in Allentown business corridor
East Warrington Avenue in Allentown had been known for years as a connecting route between South Side and Rt. 51 or Mount Washington. Considered a bumpy shortcut between South Hills neighborhoods and South Side or Downtown.
Attitudes began to change with a reconstruction of East Warrington by the Port Authority in cooperation with the City of Pittsburgh. Although the Brown Line was discontinued a number of years ago, the Port Authority is responsible for maintaining the rails and the travel lanes of the road.
The Allentown Community Development Corp. (ACDC), working with and taking advantage of the experience and skills of their neighbors at the Mount Washington Community Development Corp. (MWCDC), completed a safety assessment of the business district and offered matching grants for businesses to install additional lighting, surveillance cameras and gates. Funding was provided through the Urban Redevelopment Authority and state economic development programs.
The changes in the district, along with marketing efforts of the MWCDC and the ACDC, drew the attention of private investors and entrepreneurs looking for the affordability and convenience of Warrington Avenue. Among those making the move to Allentown included: Sweet Peaches, a catering company and restaurant; The Hardware Store, a co-working space for start-up businesses; and, RE360, a real estate company.
Meanwhile, the ACDC a member organization of the Hilltop Alliance (HA), worked with the Alliance to update its Neighborhood Plan and on a housing strategy for the community. The HA was able to garner foundation support for Allentown for a business rent abatement program in the commercial corridor along with a residential façade improvement program for a portion of the neighborhood.
Concurrently with the foundation application the HA submitted an application to the Pennsylvania Department of Economic and Community Development to participate in the Neighborhood Partnership Program (NPP) in Allentown. The NPP partners non-profit organizations and businesses with the companies receiving tax credits in exchange for their donations to the community organizations.
Three business partners, PNC Bank, UPMC Health System and Dollar Bank, agreed to provide $250,000 a year for six years as part of the Allentown NPP program. The money will be used to provide funding toward a variety of programs in the neighborhood including Fresh Fridays on the Hilltop, Brashear Association's work with the Neighborhood Employment Center and the Allentown Learning and Engagement Center, the Hilltop Computer Center along with residential and businesses improvement programs.
Business district manager
With the consistent funding of an NPP, the Hilltop Alliance hired Siena Kane as the Allentown business district manager, a full-time position dedicated to improving Warrington and parts of Arlington and Beltzhoover avenues.
Ms. Kane comes to Allentown from Uptown Partners, a grassroots organization, where she worked with businesses and residents to promote development and revitalization. She was attracted to the position because of all the things happening in Hilltop neighborhoods and the excitement of working in the Warrington corridor.
Her responsibilities as the business district manager include attracting new businesses, promoting the district and creating a "signature" event to draw people into the neighborhood. Although the Hilltop Alliance's offices are located in Knoxville on Brownsville Road, she splits her time between the base office and her desk at The Hardware Store on Warrington.
Some of the "tools" available for Ms. Kane to attract new businesses include a Special Grant Fund for signage or advertising the district and a rent abatement program where the HA will pay up to 50 percent of a qualifying business's rent for a year.
She said to qualify for the rent abatement, a new business must be a main street business and align with the Allentown Neighborhood Plan such as a bakery or coffee shop or be a "destination business" such as a destination bar or restaurant that would draw people from other communities. The Neighborhood Plan is available on both the Alliance's and the ACDC's websites: http://www.pghhilltopalliance.org or http://www.allentowncdc.org.
Other requirements for the rent abatement include a three-year signed lease, a viable business plan and for the new business to meet with the Business District Committee. New and established businesses are welcome to apply.
"We all want to make sure they succeed and will help as much as possible," she said. "We want to make sure they've done their homework and understand the cost associated with starting up and running a business."
New businesses are asked to consider ways they can attract foot traffic or other methods of generating revenue while they get established such as whether they have a wholesale aspect.
In addition, Ms. Kane said she is able to help "on the back end" by working with the business and city to get any permits needed to open.
Guidelines and applications are also available on the websites or by contacting Ms. Kane at 412-712-3306 or email@example.com.
With her other duties of attracting new businesses, she is also able to help new businesses by offering assistance with applying for URA grants or loans or ways to improve safety.
"I know that small business owners are busy people and I'm here to make it as easy for them as possible for them to get the grants, matching grants or the forgivable loans," she said noting Allentown business owners are eligible for a variety of URA grant programs.
She has been actively recruiting to fill any empty commercial spaces through a variety of methods. Through counterparts in other city community development organizations she has been spreading the word about affordable, convenient workspaces.
"If they don't have an appropriate spot for a new business they can let them know about the opportunities up here," Ms. Kane said.
In addition, social media including Twitter and Facebook are being used to promote the corridor.
"We're working with The Hardware Store to really get the word out," she added. "Because they have teams that are really very good at social media."
In addition to attracting new businesses, they're trying to attract shopper and patrons to the business district. While not trying to replace nearby Carson Street or Shiloh Street businesses districts, she said Warrington can complement them and be another option for dining and shopping.
Ms. Kane said there has been a lot of interest in the commercial district. Some of the businesses that have opened recently, with and without her help, include barber shops in the 100 and 600 blocks of Warrington, Leon's Caribbean, and Pianoburgh, a piano repair business.
Gnarly9, an artist and a maker of custom furniture and signs recently signed a lease for workshop and gallery space on Industry Street. Gnarly9 designed and constructed The Hardware Store sign before moving to Allentown.
Ms. Kane has also been working with entrepreneurs that were "excited" about bringing a coffee shop up to Warrington Avenue. The potential owner sees Warrington Avenue "as a Butler Street 15 years ago" and would like to get in on the ground floor.
In addition, a local dry cleaning company is interested in opening a storefront where people would be able to conveniently drop off and pick up their cleaning.
A craft brewer is interested in opening a brew pub where they could make and sell two or three beers. Ms. Kane said they were looking at the East End but see the potential on East Warrington.
For more information, contact Ms. Kane at 412-712-3306 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow what's happening in the Allentown community on Twitter @Allentownpgh and on Facebook at http://www.Facebook.com/AllentownCDC.