South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Tom Smith
South Pittsburgh Reporter Editor 

Strategy for Carson taking shape with task force formation

 

January 29, 2019



South Side stakeholders came together last week to take the next steps to solve problems, real and perceived, associated with the neighborhood’s business district.

Josette Fitzgibbons, neighborhood business district manager for the Urban Redevelopment Authority, opened the meeting of more than 80 people by introducing the steering team and recapping the work leading to this point.

Members of the steering team include: Ms. Fitzgibbons; Candice Gonzalez, executive director of the South Side Chamber of Commerce; Barbara Rudiak, president of the South Side Community Council; Ernie Sota, Sota Construction Service, Inc .; Henry Horn-Pyatt, small business and neighborhood redevelopment manager in the city’s Bureau of Neighborhood Empowerment; Tracy Myers, chair of the South Side Planning Forum’s Neighborhood Plan Committee; Allison Harnden, Nighttime Economy manager for the city; and, Emily Embrey, Nighttime Economy coordinator.

Beginning in 2017, consultants Fourth Economy met monthly with the steering team concerning the E. Carson Street business corridor. Last year, they met with focus groups and conducted both intercept and online surveys. A workshop was held in July 2018 to gain input from community members to begin discussions about implementing recommendations once a plan is completed.

Fourth Economy’s report revealed South Side grew in population and added jobs at a greater rate than the city as a whole. From 2000-2016, South Side’s population increased by 12.1 percent as opposed to the city losing 8.8 percent. South Side’s job growth from 2005-2015 was 35 percent compared to the city’s seven percent.

The top five areas for job growth in the neighborhood were: Accommodation and food services; Health care and social assistance; Professional, technical and scientific services; Retail trade; and, Manufacturing.

The report also noted there was a surplus of retail trade and food and drink beyond what the residential base can support, with a large number of customers from outside the neighborhood.

Under represented businesses in South Side included general merchandise store, specialty furniture and home goods, and motor vehicles.

South Side’s nighttime economy has an estimated impact of $304 million a year and provides 2,508 jobs for city residents. Nighttime economy generates an estimated $34 million in total state and local taxes: State, $19.9 million; County, $9.5 million; City, $3.7; and, School, $1.1 million.

The full report is available on the URA website at: https://www.ura.org/pages/strategic-plans.

Ms. Fitzgibbons said recommendations included to work on the principles of the Main Street model: Economic Vitality; Design; Promotion; and, Organization. Three task forces were to be created on the tenets, leaving Organization for later.

Those attending were asked to self-select a task force to join choosing from Economic Vitality, Promotion/Marketing and Public Aesthetics (replacing design). All task forces would meet at the same time in the same location, at least initially.

Guidelines for the task forces included to come up with three priorities in each group of achievable goals. She recommended going for the “low hanging fruit” that would be possible for volunteers to attain and what the next steps would include.

“Tonight’s just the beginning,” Ms. Fitzgibbons said. “It’s not what the mayor is telling us what to do. It’s not what the URA is telling us what to do. It’s what you want to do.”

She continued the task forces should include positive discussion and not complaining.

You’re not going to solve the big stuff right away, she told the group. “You want to have some small wins going forward.”

Before breaking into the three task forces, team leaders gave short presentations on what they hoped to accomplish.

Ms. Harnden said possible goals for Economic Vitality could be looking at the mix of businesses; creating a database of existing businesses and storefronts; activating vacant storefronts as “pop ups”; offering support and incentives to businesses; or, how to support existing businesses better.

“Our image isn’t what it should be,” Mr. Sota said in the Promotion Marketing task force. Goals could be a branding and public relations campaign to create a positive common brand for the neighborhood.

Mr. Horn-Pyatt added they could try to create the image they want the neighborhood to have.

“The way we experience a place has a lot to do with how we visit a place,” Ms. Myers said of the Public Aesthetics task force. Goals could include building coalitions and researching what other neighborhoods have done to improve ice and snow removal, clean and green issues and highlighting what city services are available in the community.

Residents, business people and visitors in the audience then self-selected the task force they were interested in joining. Public Aesthetics drew the largest crowd with 36 members while Economic Vitality had the least with 18. Twenty-six people participated in the Promotion/Marketing task force break-out session.

After about an hour of individual discussion, the three groups were asked to report on their top three goals.

Goals for Economic Vitality were: Databases of vacant commercial properties and existing businesses; Connecting existing businesses and those interested in coming to South Side with people in the neighborhood; and, Improved marketing using data from the Fourth Economy report.

The Promotion/Marketing team wants to develop a brand identity for the neighborhood; Produce a video to attract new businesses and customers; and, Promote a positive image of the neighborhood (with the Community Council), highlighting the neighborhood’s walkability.

In Public Aesthetics, the team’s goals were to increase signage to direct people to the neighborhood’s amenities such as the trails and businesses; Communicate with the city about the cleanliness of the neighborhood off of E. Carson Street; and, Additional signage connected to public safety efforts.

Ms. Fitzgibbons said the next meeting of the task forces will take place in late February or Early March. At that time, the groups will look into what additional people should be added and what resources are available.

A publicly accessible Google drive folder has been created where all notes and information about the E. Carson Street Strategy sessions will be stored. The folder will include pdfs of the reports and notes of the task force’s meetings.

The dive is accessible at: https://goo.gl/nbMkPD.

 

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