South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret L. Smykla
Contributing Writer 

Carson business district studied, now a plan will be formulated

 

December 18, 2018



Funding has not yet been sought for an East Carson Street business district plan as a plan has not yet been developed.

That was one of many takeaways from the December 11 meeting of the South Side Planning Forum.

Josette Fitzgibbons, neighborhood business district manager for the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh (URA), said the next step in the process of developing an East Carson Street business district strategy is forming four task forces in early 2019 to address recommendations in four topic areas: economic vitality; design; promotion; and, organization.

The task forces will develop work plans, determine sources of funding as necessary, and implement programs and activities in each topic area.

Ms. Fitzgibbons said any South Side resident or business owner may be on a task force. The first meeting to form task forces will be January 24, to which everyone is invited. The task forces will then meet monthly.

Interested participants may volunteer for specific tasks they are good at, such as analyzing data or building a website.

She said the recommendations for this strategy grew out of the discussions that took place during a community workshop on July 12, 2018.

The workshop was the first step in developing strategies for East Carson Street.

In a review of the entire planning process, Ms. Fitzgibbons said the URA and the city, along with several South Side community groups, were interested in developing a community-driven, three- to five-year business district blueprint for strengthening East Carson Street from S. 10th Street to S. 25th Street.

Ms. Fitzgibbons said what was needed was a look at the business district as a whole: what businesses are doing; which are having overflow crowds; which businesses are struggling; and more, or what she referred to as “boots on the ground.”

A consultant contract was awarded to Fourth Economy, a national community and economic development consulting firm based in Pittsburgh.

The July community workshop meeting, conducted by Fourth Economy, was held to solicit input and begin discussions about implementation of the recommendations once the plan is completed.

A draft report, followed by a final report, emerged from the meeting.

The key report findings include that the South Side population and employment base are both growing faster than the rest of the city: while the city lost 8.8 percent of its population from 2000 to 2016, South Side grew by 12.1 percent.

While the city experienced 7 percent job growth from 2005 to 2015, the South Side had 35 percent job growth.

The total effect of the nighttime economic outputs, directly and indirectly, is $304.1 million per year. South Side’s nighttime economy provides 2,508 jobs for Pittsburgh residents.

The nighttime economy in that business district provides an estimated $34.1 million in total annual state and local taxes, with this breakdown: city: $3.7 million; school district: $1.1 million; county: $9.5 million; and state: $19.9 million.

To set the foundation for the three-year strategy, broad recommendations were developed based on the community engagement, market analysis, and impact analysis phases. These are economic vitality, design, promotion, and organization, or what the four new task forces will address.

Briefly, the economic vitality recommendation focuses on the ideal business mix for East Carson Street, and business incentives and support.

The design recommendation involves these themes: green, clean, safe, and welcoming, while the promotion recommendation relates to the corridor’s ability to increase awareness of East Carson Street and ensure that the public has an accurate perception of the area.

The organization recommendation applies to stakeholders’ ability to coordinate and arrange themselves in a way that is supportive of these recommendations.

In the question-and-answer period that followed the review, Thomas Barry, of the South Side Chamber of Commerce, asked about the daytime economy, to which Councilman Bruce Kraus commented the report largely focuses on the nighttime economy. But there are daytime economy statistics in the report, Ms. Fitzgibbons added.

Mr. Barry also asked if an effort was made to bring in anyone from the state or county, as those bodies receive large tax revenue from the business district.

Barbara Rudiak, of the South Side Community Council, said it could be pursued if the task forces find a role for the county or state.

Mr. Barry said the state is a main player as East Carson Street is a state road. County representatives were also on the advisory committee for the upcoming safety improvement project for the corridor.

Ms. Fitzgibbons said if a task force needs a Port Authority Transit representative, or someone from the Liquor Control Board, the task force will bring in those people.

Mr. Kraus said it has been a long time since an inventory was conducted of the corridor so as to make informed decisions.

“It is the beginning of a roadmap to move forward,” Ms. Fitzgibbons said of the process.

To the question of whether the next step is to make a plan, Mr. Kraus said yes.

“We needed a data-driven snapshot, and will make informed decisions from this point,” he said.

He said implementation of the recommendations will occur with everyone’s participation and input.

To a question from Mr. Barry if city or state or federal funding is available, the answer was no because there isn’t a plan yet. Funding will be needed for implementation down the road, Ms. Rudiak said.

Ms. Fitzgibbons said she can imagine a menu of items in the next six months, after which funding might be sought.

To his comment the project needs relationships with the state, Ms. Rudiak said he should be on a task force and develop relationships with the state if he feels it is important to a plan.

To a question about empty storefronts from Mr. Barry, Ms. Rudiak said the economic vitality task force can look at what is empty and why.

Mr. Kraus said there is a percentage of vacancy in every business district. He said he would like Ms. Fitzgibbons to find out more details.

“It is important that it is driven by data,” he said.

Mr. Barry said as the goal to bring in new businesses and help develop, we must have the relevant data.

The full study is available at the URA website, http://www.ura.org/pages/strategic-plans.

In the report of the Development Review Committee (DRC), chair Tracy Myers said the Zoning Hearing Board has 40 days from the December 6 hearing to render a decision on the proposed “Distillery at South Shore.” Variances are sought for a setback, sidewalk, and parking spaces.

The project is the redevelopment of a building at 129 McKean St., at the corner of McKean and 2nd streets between where the Liberty Bridge and the T-line pass over the Flats. The structure originally stored whiskey barrels.

The formal proposal is for renovation and addition to the existing structure for use as grocery (limited), retail (general), and restaurant (general).

Under the plan, the seven short floors while be combined into five floors. There will also be a new addition.

The new building will have eating venues, a cigar smoking area, a site for artists to display their works, and more. The ground floor would have a fresh market.

The hope is to begin construction work in January-February, 2019.

In the South Side Neighborhood Plan update, Ms. Myers issued a charge to representatives of member organizations to ask their respective boards whether the Planning Forum should continue to exist.

If the organizations vote for the Forum to continue, a crucial question for consideration as the Forum moves forward will be whether it should continue to operate on a consensus basis, Ms. Myers said.

The representatives should report back to the Forum at its February meeting.

The question of the future leadership structure of the Planning Forum was necessitated by the pending retirement of Planning Forum chair Hugh Brannan from the Brashear Association and, hence, as Planning Forum chair. He will serve as chair through March.

Mr. Brannan has said he does not foresee a situation in which Brashear does not serve South Side in some way, but the association’s focus of service is shifting to the Hilltop communities.

For that reason, it cannot be assumed the next executive director or the board of Brashear will consider it necessary for the organization to maintain its role in the Planning Forum, Ms. Myers said.

If the member organizations want the Planning Forum to continue, a facilitator workshop will be held “to bring fresh eyes to the process,” Ms. Myers said, and which may involve questions like “If the Planning Forum was starting today, what would it look like?”

The final step would be for everyone to decide the best way for the Planning Forum to continue.

Mr. Brannan said in light of the Brashear Association’s 100th anniversary last year, the question arose as to how best to position the association for the next hundred years.

He said the demographics of the South Side Flats have changed, and that a more visible presence is needed on the Hilltop.

He said some changes are expected, but no decisions have been made about the current building, which houses a daycare, offices, food pantry, and more. As it is an asset, the board of directors must decide on the building’s fate.

Regardless, the Brashear Association’s service area will likely include the Flats and Slopes, he said.

“This will look a little different,” he said.

In announcements, a Duquesne University master plan kick-off community meeting is planned for December 17 in the Power Center Ballroom. The comprehensive plan will study student housing, transportation, athletics, and community development. Input and questions from the community are welcome.

Among the proposed projects are an AJ Palumbo Center and McCloskey Field enclosure; Rangos School addition; future multi-purpose building; new press box; 5th Avenue community development plan; and more.

Mr. Brannan reported food vouchers and toys will be distributed by the Brashear Association to about 600 Hilltop families on Dec. 19.

He also reported the South Side Chamber of Commerce raised $1,000 at its Mittens & Mingles holiday fundraiser for Brashear for holiday toys and meals.

The next Planning Forum meeting will be on Jan. 8.

 

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