South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Tom Smith
South Pittsburgh Reporter Editor 

Community development can't be rushed, it takes time CBA told

 

The open market at the beginning of the Dairy District is almost complete. One of the project of Economic Development South, the Dairy District aims to be a eventually be a destination district for shoppers and diners.

When Jason Tigano came to the May meeting of the Carrick Business Association he couldn't be clearer in his message.

"I think this is the new hotness," the director of Real Estate for Economic Development South (EDS) said of the Carrick neighborhood and the Brownsville Road corridor.

Mr. Tigano has some experience with neighborhood business districts having served for five years beginning as an intern in Congressman Mike Doyle's office, with the Urban Redevelopment Authority at its Legislative Affairs Manager and for the past year and a half with EDS.

He explained the South Pittsburgh neighborhoods and communities EDS serves are positioned well with funding organizations and foundations.

"I play this really unique middleman role. Funders want to see their money spent well. If I can develop a good product that checks all the boxes from a funder's point of view, then I get their money," he said.

Mr. Tigano explained communities succeed when they have a vision of what they want to see happen. Those community designs then have to strategically align with market forces.

"If the market doesn't take hold of the work that we do, then we will all just continually do the work that we do," he said. He gave East Liberty as an example of 40 years of disinvestment through the decades from the 60s until the early 90s.

"It wasn't until the late 90s and early 2000s that the story of East Liberty started to change."

Historically, the community always cared about Penn Avenue, but the market forces suggested Centre Avenue should be the focus of the main street. When investors and funders started looking at Centre Avenue, they built Whole Foods, he said.

"It was sort of the unicorn, not everyone is going to get a Whole Foods, but what it really started to show is market factors change communities," Mr. Tigano continued.

It wasn't that East Liberty was such a strong market for Whole Foods, but that surrounding communities such as Shadyside, Squirrel Hill, Highland Park and going out to Aspinwall and Fox Chapel were great markets for Whole Foods, he explained.

To his point, he said, Carrick already has a built-in market in the 22,000 cars that travel on Brownsville Road every day. "It exists already."

He said it took 50 years, and millions of possibly misspent money, for East Liberty to figure out how to the point where they have 22,000 in car counts a day.

"This just exists here. People in other communities would drool for this. This is the most amazing thing," he said.

Mr. Tigano told the CBA members as business owners with retail spaces and storefronts, they are the first introduction to the community for many people.

He cautioned them the community development work he does with EDS takes a minimum of three to five years to begin to see change. If they weren't prepared to stay with the community, they could sell now and let someone else reap the benefits of a resurgent neighborhood in a few years.

"There are places that people will want to come and live, and when I walk through these communities, this is that place," Mr. Tigano said.

He said EDS has five "lines of business": Economic Development, Transit and Transportation, Small Business, Environment, and Marketing. His specialty is real estate development.

Some of the "exciting" things happening along Brownsville Road he talked about included the groundbreaking for the Hillcrest Residences, the 66 unit senior mid-rise being built on the border of Carrick and Brentwood.

He told them to think of Brownsville Road as a barbell with the stable communities of Baldwin, Brentwood and Whitehall on one side and South Side on the other.

"What I hope to see, is that those folks that really want to live in Baldwin, Brentwood and Whitehall, but can't afford it, want to come to Carrick. Those folks that want to live in South Side and can't afford it will come up to Mt. Oliver and Knoxville," he said.

"And that sounds maybe insane to some people, but we're really not that far off from being able to have a much stronger market than we have today."

Another project EDS is working on in Carrick is the former Berg Place apartments. The city is working on taking the property through the Treasurer's Sale process. When the process is complete, EDS will partner with the URA to renovate and rent out the apartments fronting Brownsville Road. One of the properties in the rear had to be demolished due to a fire. A decision on the other two rear buildings hasn't been made yet.

He said the process could take years, but will happen.

Mr. Tigano said he has been talking with business owners in the 2600 block of Brownsville about façade programs. One program will match 60/40 up to $75,000 in total costs, about $35,000. A second URA program for up to $5,000 will match dollar for dollar on façade renovations.

EDS has its own program where they will provide $1,500 for signage and lighting: $500 for signage and $1,000 for lighting.

"Signage and lighting make a difference in a business district," he said. "If you don't invest in your business, the community doesn't think you're investing in your business. And if they don't think you're investing, they're probably not going to support your business. They want to support businesses that look like they'll be around or look like they've been around."

Signage and lighting help to make a business district feel more inviting and safer, he told them. Lights on the building help not only to advertise the business, but make people feel safer.

The biggest single crime deterrent is people out on the street, he told them.

"I don't want to be Butler Street. I don't want to be Carson Street. I want to be Brownsville Road," Mr. Tigano said. "But you know what I want to have...their property values. And I want you all to share in that with us."

He said the Dairy District is another EDS "place making" project. The idea is that people want to go to places that have cool things happening.

Colteryahn Dairy is the last of 300 dairies once located in the city. To capitalize and build on it as an attraction, they hope to bring related businesses and restaurants to the area.

The outdoor market associated with the Dairy District is nearing completion and will host a weekly farmers' market.

"We're trying diligently to get some other things going on there but it's not coming to fruition as quickly as we would like," Mr. Tigano said.

 

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