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Developer building houses, preserving history on Mt. Washington

Developer Jeff Paul has already built more than 40 homes on Mt. Washington, but his new project includes an especially historic touch.

Tentatively called the Bradley Street Redoubt, Paul’s plan to construct 26 housing units and a park includes the preservation of Pittsburgh’s last known Civil War fortification.

“The cool thing about it now is that nobody really knows it’s there. It’s private property in heavily wooded land you can’t even get to,” Paul says.

When Robert E. Lee led the Army of Northern Virginia toward Pennsylvania in the summer of 1863, there was local concern he’d try to invade Pittsburgh. Working at a frenetic pace, the city constructed 19 earthen fortifications on high ground around the area. Called redoubts, Mt. Washington’s is the last standing Civil War fortification in Pittsburgh.

“The cool thing about it is that we’re going to be able to create another park for Mt. Washington and a cool space for people to live,” Paul says, adding that eventually, the park and fort will be connected to Emerald View Park through its Greenleaf Street trailhead.

“I think it’s a really interesting case study about how development and preservation can go hand-in-hand,” says Ilyssa Manspeizer, the Mt. Washington Community Development Corporation’s director of park development.

Paul says his company, Pomo Development, will work with local historians and archaeologists to preserve and refurbish the redoubt, and that the housing won’t interfere.

“We’re giving them free reign to preserve and recreate it,” he said, adding that Pomo will be happily footing the bill.

Paul has enlisted the services of architect Ed Pope, with whom he worked on Sweetbriar Village, to design the new homes, each of which will have garages and front porches to create a city-type feel.

“We’re trying to create something like Summerset at Frick here in Mt. Washington,” Paul says.

Writer: Matthew Wein
Sources: Jeff Paul, Ilyssa Manspeizer

Aspinwall Riverfront Park debuts free skating rink

The first sections of Aspinwall Riverfront Park aren’t scheduled to open until later this year, but the community is still making the most of the land in the meantime.

The park’s development team and more than 150 volunteers have worked together to construct an ice rink on the former brownfield while construction on the first phases of the park is ongoing. The rink is 108 feet by 88 feet and free to the public.

“It’s going to be open as long as the weather is cold enough to accommodate us,” says park developer Susan Crookston. “If you have your own skates, you can skate beginning at 9 a.m. We’ll have food and skates available after 3:30 p.m.”

In addition to the rink, the park has a hut — staffed by Aspinwall Everyday Gourmet — offering snacks and hot cocoa during after-school hours and on weekends, and about 50 pairs of skates in both child and adult sizes which visitors can borrow for free.

Though they haven’t been able to spring for a Zamboni, park caretakers do have a device they’re using to smooth out the surface of the ice on a daily basis, and the maintenance of the rink has been something of a shared responsibility.

“The people who are using the rink help keep it clear,” Crookston says. “We bought a device to smooth the ice, but kids have had a lot of fun shoveling snow off the ice to keep it clean.

In addition to free ice skating and hot cocoa, the park’s winter facilities include a fire pit over which visitors can roast marshmallows. While visitors bringing their own skates are free to begin using the rink at 9 a.m. daily, free skate rental and snacks are available from 4 to 7 p.m. on weekdays and 12 to 7:30 p.m. on weekends.

Writer: Matthew Wein
Source: Susan Crookston

Eat + Drink: Dishcrawl Pittsburgh, Summer Winter Warmer and more

Eat + Drink is Pop City’s weekly guide to local epic nommz.

Dishcrawl takes off
Dishcrawl, the neighborhood restaurant tour which takes diners to four different neighborhood restaurants in one evening, will hold its first event of 2014 on February 19th.

There are just two catches:
1)      Diners won’t know the restaurants until 48 hours before the event.
2)      February’s incarnation is already sold out.

Dishcrawl, which takes place in about 100 cities across the United States and Canada, first game to Pittsburgh last year with stops in Lawrenceville and Shadyside. But new director Colleen Coll has her sights set on giving the event a more distinctly local flavor than it’s had in the past.

“Sometimes people don’t know a certain neighborhood, then they get to go to four restaurants in one night. It’s great to get to that experience all at once,” Coll says.

February’s edition will take participants to four different restaurants in Downtown Pittsburgh. And because it’s already sold out, Coll has started planning March’s excursion. Her destination? The Strip District.

“One of the things we like to focus on is having an area with at least 20 restaurants,” she says. “Between Downtown and the Strip, those neighborhoods are perfect. One event’s not enough for Downtown. I was surprised they weren’t picked in the first place.”

For updates, follow Dishcrawl Pittsburgh on Facebook and Twitter.

Summer Winter Warmer back on tap at Roundabout
Consider this a public service announcement: Summer Winter Warmer is back on tap at Roundabout Brewery. This brew, which starts out smelling like a floral West Coast IPA and seamlessly transitions into a rich, full-bodied English-style warmer full of roasted malts, is a delightful little journey of flavor. It’s like seeing the sun for the first time in six weeks.

Markets need friends too
The Pittsburgh Public Market would like to be your friend, and it doesn’t mean on Facebook.

Fresh off its move into the new space at 2401 Penn Avenue in the Strip, the Public Market is debuting its “Friends of the Market” program. In exchange for pledging your charitable support at one of the four levels between $25 and $250, the market is doling out perks ranging from stickers and tote bags to free use of its meeting space.

One way to join is by attending the market’s first annual tasting event this Friday from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Tickets are $35 and include samples from the markets various vendors. The price of the ticket covers your first year-long membership in the program and gets your name on the wall under the list of founding members.

Writer: Matthew Wein
Source: Colleen Coll

Riverlife launches guide to aid Pennsylvania's riverfront development

Pittsburgh’s importance in the founding and forging of America owes a great deal to its rivers. For the last 15 years, Riverlife has worked with property owners, community groups and elected officials to restore Pittsburgh’s riverfront territories as assets which have helped to once again set the city apart.

Now, Riverlife is sharing its methodology with the world. This week, the organization released a new resources guide for river towns looking to duplicate Pittsburgh’s success in reviving waterfront property.

“We have 86,000 miles of rivers and streams in Pennsylvania. We have more river communities than most places in the world,” says Riverlife President and CEO Lisa Schroeder. “The guide compiles what we’ve learned here at Riverlife over the last 15 years as we’ve worked on projects on and adjacent to the river.”

Schroeder added that in creating the guide, which took about a year, Riverlife tried to make its lessons and processes applicable to communities of all sizes, and thinks it will be of particular help to river towns in and around the Rust Belt.

The guide is divided into four sections. The “Natural” section encompasses information about ecological conservation. The “Connections” section details best practices for maximizing public access to riverfront developments. “Built” covers elements of design, materials, stormwater management and river-adjacent structures, and “Character” touches on everything from landscape architecture and invasive species management to integrating public art projects.

“Whether a community hopes to build a park or a stormwater garden, we hope this gives them the sense not only that they can do it, but of how to go about it,” she says. “We’re very pleased we’ve been able to layer in years of experience from accomplished professionals.”

The Benedum Foundation financed the creation of the guide and has helped to make it widely accessible. Complimentary hard copies are available through Riverlife, and a digital, print-friendly version is posted on the organization’s website.

Writer: Matthew Wein
Source: Lisa Schroeder

CoStar Brewery gaining traction from its tiny space in Highland Park

If someone was to start a brewery in a garage in Highland Park, how long would it take Pittsburgh to notice?

That’s by no means a hypothetical question. In 2010, beer enthusiasts Jeff Hanna and Dom Cincotta started kicking around the idea of starting a nanobrewery. After working their way through all of the legal and construction processes, they incorporated CoStar Brewing in November of 2011, and secured state and federal licensing last February.  

“We’ve really flown under the radar since we’ve been operation,” says Hanna, whose wife and brother are also partners in the project. “We’re all home-brewers and ex-Pittsburgh bartenders. We have a lot of good connections to the Pittsburgh bar community.”

Still, this isn’t a full-time venture for anyone involved. All four CoStar partners have full-time jobs and brew three times, one day a week.

“We brew on a 15-gallon system and have three one-barrel fermenters. We’re taking it just little by little,” Hanna says.

In addition to its flagship American pale ale Hopland Park (reviewed in Eat + Drink two weeks ago), Among its impressive menu, CoStar makes Top Down (a California common or steam beer), Brick Alley Brown Ale and a coffee stout made with beans roasted by Zeke’s Coffee in East Liberty. There’s also a doppelbock and a strawberry wheat beer, and seasonal selections include a pumpkin beer and a Christmas ale.

“We have a Belgian strong ale heading out to bars shortly,” Hanna says. “Our goal is just to make beers that we enjoy.”

CoStar only distributes in sixtels — kegs which hold 1/6th of one barrel. A normal-sized keg holds half a barrel. And since they only brew three barrels a week, supply is always limited.

The brewery has a dedicated tap at Harvard & Highland, and its beers appear regularly at Kelly’s Lounge in East Liberty, Up Modern Kitchen in Shadyside and Gus’s Café in Lawrenceville. A handful of other bars and restaurants carry CoStar Brews periodically. For a full list, check CoStar’s taps page.

Writer: Matthew Wein
Source: Jeff Hanna

Three young artists establishing Garfield gallery, residency space

If you’re already chomping at the bit to get out of your house and partake in a warm-weather activity —say, a gallery crawl — you’ve got something new to look forward to once the ice melts.

Three intrepid young women have started the Bunker Projects — an art residency and gallery space at 5106 Penn Avenue in Garfield, right in the heart of the Penn Avenue Arts District.

“It started with our discovering the space. When we found this building, it’d been partially destroyed by a fire a few years ago, so our first job was to restore the space, and we’ve been doing that with help from volunteers,” says Cecilia Ebitz, one of Bunker’s co-founders. “Because it was so rough, it was sort of an invitation to customize the space and have it cater to the resident artists.”

Ebitz and her collegues, Jessie Rommelt and Abigail Beddall, first met as students in Penn State’s BFA program. All three hail from State College, but didn’t know each other before coming together to study sculpture.

“We had friends who lived in Pittsburgh who’d really touted its praises. The art scene is really accessible and not oversaturated,” Ebitz says, adding that it seemed the natural location to start their project.

When the space is totally complete, it will include two bedrooms, two private studio spaces and two gallery spaces. It will host two artists at a time for three-month periods. Ebitz says they could have the renovations done by the end of January, and aim to show the space and exhibit some work during the Penn Avenue gallery crawl scheduled for February 7th.

Right now, though, they’re just trying to secure enough funding to finish renovating the building. Bunker launched a crowdfunding campaign earlier this month to help cover the remaining costs, about $10,000. They’re nearly halfway there.

“This is the first time we’ve ever taken on a project like this,” Ebitz says. “We have all of our artists scheduled for ’14, as well as a few remote residential projects. We have a bulk of the residency programming all figured out for 2014, but we also want to offer the space as a place for special projects, exhibitions and performances.”

Writer: Matthew Wein
Source: Cecilia Ebitz

Eat + Drink: Mead in Carnegie, a new bar in Squirrel Hill and dark brews at East End

Eat + Drink is Pop City’s weekly look at epic local nommz.

Penn brewer will open meadery in Carnegie
Dave Cerminara might brew beer, but it’s mead he loves.

That’s why he’ll leave his job as assistant brewer at the North Side’s Penn Brewery later this year to open Apis Meadery at 212 E. Main Street in Carnegie.

Though its popularity has waxed and waned, humans have been making mead — a wine whose fermentable sugar is derived from honey — for at least 4,000 years.

“It’s been something I’ve been thinking about for eight or nine years now,” Cerminara says. “When you get into the world of mead, there are so many varieties. It doesn’t have to be just honey wine. It can be melomels or fruit wine — it can be lots of things. We’re trying to show people what mead really can be.”

Cerminara says that by the time he’s ready to open, he hopes to have between six and ten varieties ready to go. Among them will be standard meads for summer and winter made from clover honey, melomels (fruit wines) flavored with peaches and apricots or blackberries and raspberries, and pyments.

“Pyment is specifically grape and honey blended. For the grapes, we chose a Sangiovese, and I’ve been making that one for about nine years,” he says. “It has that robust richness, but it has the nice honey finish on the back.”

Cerminara says he hopes to open for business by early July.

New Squirrel Hill bar will specialize in local brews
Local attorney Peter Kurzweg new venture, the Independent Brewing Company, is set to take over the space at 1704 Shady Avenue in Squirrel Hill, which until late last year was occupied by Fanattics sports bar. Independent plans to offer a definitive selection of locally brewed beers. An opening date hasn’t yet been confirmed.

East End to host Festival of Darkness
Reeling from not having seen the sun in two months? East End Brewing can’t really help with that, so they’re embracing the darkness.

The brewery will host its Festival of Darkness on Saturday, February 1st. For $5 (which goes right toward East End's collection for Light of Life) you can taste 12 of East End’s darkest ales, stouts and porters. The full lineup includes everything from their year-round and seasonal brews to one-offs, such as Homewood Reserve 2013 — Black Strap Stout aged for nine months in Maker’s Mark barrels.
You can view the full lineup on the festival’s event page.

Writer: Matthew Wein
Sources: Dave Cerminara, Peter Kurzweg

Pittsburgh developer courting European light manufacturer

A Slovenian LED manufacturer looking to establish a North American hub is giving further consideration to Pittsburgh.

Officials from Washington County-based Millcraft Investments are in Slovenia this week meeting with Robert Grah, owner Grah Lighting, about establishing a major base of operations in Pittsburgh to go along with a massive LED streetlight project.

“This aligns nicely with what Mayor Peduto has been fighting for,” says Kevin Acklin, Peduto’s chief of staff. “When he became aware with what they were looking for, he traveled to Slovenia. That was followed up by a trip [Grah] took to Pittsburgh.”

The latter visit, which Grah made last November, saw him tour the Almono brownfield site in Hazelwood, warehouses in the Strip District and meet with Peduto, then mayor-elect. After those meetings, according the Acklin, Millcraft reached out to Peduto’s administration, offering to help organize investors and raise the capital Grah is looking for.

“We know [Millcraft], we’ve worked with them and they know the landscape of the development. They stepped up. That’s something the city government can’t do by itself,” says Acklin, Pittsburgh and the potential of its Almono site stand an excellent chance of bringing the business to the region.

“He liked the Midwest presence, he liked the people, and he liked the proximity to other markets,” Acklin says. “We’ve made a very strong statement that this is something we want to see happen.”

Pittsburgh is thought to be one of two finalists for the location of Grah’s new factory. Cleveland is the other.

Writer: Matthew Wein
Source: Kevin Acklin

A ceramics studio is Lawrenceville's latest get

Dan Kuhn grew up in the Allegheny Valley, and the roots his ancestors planted here run so deep, he knew he’d wind up back in Pittsburgh one way or another.

“I came back to Lawrenceville because one side of my family started a small business in town,” Kuhn says. He’s referring to ancestor Edward Frauenheim, who founded the Pittsburgh Brewing Company in 1861.
Now after years spend in California and New York, he’s back and looking to provide Pittsburgh with a place for all things pottery.

Kuhn has rented the 3,000-square-foot space at 158 41st Street in Lawrenceville — an old mechanic’s garage from the 1930s — and is turning it into Ton Pottery, a full studio and gallery space which will aim to serve and grow Pittsburgh’s ceramics community.

Ton will offer everything from ceramics classes for kids, adults and families to services for local artists, such as open studio time, kilns, glaze mixing and to a place for local potters to showcase and sell their work.

“It’s a pretty diverse group of people, and we really want to get them exposure,” Kuhn says. “We’re also going to offer services for local potters. We want to extend professional services to people who might not have the facilities to do these things.”

Ton will start with eight potter’s wheels and eventually build up to 12. In addition to throwing, the facility will offer hand-building space and will be available to rent for parties and other social events. Ton Pottery will hold its grand opening on February 22 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Kuhn says classes are on schedule to begin March 1st.

“When people think pottery in Pittsburgh, I want them to say, 'I’m going to Lawrenceville! That’s where it’s all happening,'” he says.

Writer: Matthew Wein
Source: Dan Kuhn

Downtown's Night Market returns for a 7th edition

You might remember the last time the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership held a Night Market — it took place on a bridge and happened to coincide with the arrival of a particularly beloved specimen of water fowl.

Granted, Night Market VII won’t clog the Clemente Bridge, nor will it occur simultaneously with the arrival of the bird that spurred a million Facebook photos. But it will be warm, intimate and tailored to the season when it runs from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. at 131 7th Street this Friday.

“Were going to have about 20 different vendors in the space,” says the PDP’s Leigh White. “We’ve kind of curated it to include some people’s favorite vendors. It feels like each night market takes on its own special vibe.”

This incarnation of Nigh Market will be a stop on the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s first gallery crawl of 2014. Accordingly, the Toonseum is decorating the building’s front windows with comic-themed art.

In addition to vendors offering art, jewelry, crafts, food (Burgh Bites will be on hand with Cuban sandwiches) and warm drinks (including teas from Healcrest Urban Farms and coffee from Zeke's), the market will include music from local singer-songwriter Tori Plack. Oh, and there’ll be soup.

“Last year, we did it in the same space, and that’s one ofd the things we like about the night market — we can adapt it to the seasons,” White says.

For a complete list of vendors, see the event’s website.

Writer: Matthew Wein
Source: Leigh White

Councilwoman proposes creating Pittsburgh land bank

Though it might be hard to believe amid all of Pittsburgh’s recent development, the number of blighted or abandoned properties within the city is around 35,000 — about 19 percent of the city’s land. Every year, Pittsburgh spends about $20.5 million managing these properties.

Last Tuesday, District 7 Councilwoman Deb Gross introduced a bill which if passed would lay the legal groundwork for Pittsburgh to establish a land bank — a public, non-profit authority designed to streamline the process of redeveloping these tax-delinquent parcels. The land bank would be independent from the city and be run by a board of seven directors — four mayoral appointees and three city-council appointees.

“The first thing that it could do is accept property so that it would have assets. That’s why it’s important as to why it’d be independent and not a city agency,” Gross says. “If your only job is to clear title assets and sell them, you have a clean purpose and unencumbered operation.”

“I’ve talked to [the department of] city planning to try and seek out how this might happen in the next year or two, and they’ve given us 7,000 to 8,000 that are sort of out in the nebula which they call surplus. They don’t spend any time at all thinking about them. They’re just there and they’d be happy to unload them,” she added.

Under a state law passed in 2012, Pittsburgh has the authority to establish a land bank, and that bank has the ability to accept free property. It could also recoup about half of the money collected from outstanding taxes and liens when tax-delinquent parcels are sold through city treasurer’s sales. The land bank would not have the power of eminent domain.

Once established, the land back would replace the city’s current “land-recycling” method and use proceeds from sales of its assets to create a more focused and specific approach toward redeveloping these properties. Using the city’s current method at its current pace, it’s estimated that clearing the backlog of blighted properties would take about 60 years.  

Gross also noted that a Pittsburgh land bank could work in concert with municipalities outside the city, such as Wilkinsburg, to help faster spur community development projects.

“That’s stuff the URA wouldn’t be allowed to do but the land bank could,” she says.

Writer: Matthew Wein
Source: Deb Gross

Eat + Drink: Rum cocktails, beer and...gluten-free fries?

Eat + Drink is Pop City’s week a epic local nommz.

Rum cocktails for everyone
Maggie’s Farm Rum, the Strip District distillery from Tim Russell which opened its doors for bottle sales after Thanksgiving last year, held the grand opening of its in-house cocktail and tasting bar on Saturday. Russell, who for the event partnered with the organizers of Pittsburgh Cocktail Week and Butterjoint Bar Manager Will Groves, offered attendees a menu of five cocktails and a rum punch.

Russell says that eventually, the bar will operate in conjunction with the distillery’s retail hours, but that for now, the bar will only be open Thursday through Sunday, and that he'll likely offer between four and six different rum cocktails at a given time.

CoStar on tap at Gus’s Café
Eat + Drink paid its first visit to Gus’s Café in Lawrenceville over the weekend and discovered a few great things:
1. French fries cooked in gluten-free oil taste just as good as those fried in regular oil (admittedly, we’re still not sure what gluten actually tastes like).
2. A local brewery called CoStar (more on them next week) makes an American-style pale ale called Hopland Park. It’s a dark gold, hazy as apple cider and strikes an extremely fine balance between hop and citrus flavors; remarkably refreshing for how full-bodied it is. Go try it.
3. Gus’s ambience, menu and simple charm — plus the sizable outdoor patio on the way — could eventually make it one of the top neighborhood bars in a city full of great neighborhood bars.

The Porch hosts ‘Bee to Beer’ tonight
To celebrate the release of its Honey Heather Ale, East End Brewing will throw a release party tonight at The Porch at Schenley from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Made with honey from hives kept on the roof of The Porch, this new edition of Honey Heather Ale will only be available on draft at The Porch and its Downtown sister restaurant Six Penn Kitchen, as well as East End’s brewery in Larimer.

Writer: Matthew Wein
Sources: Tim Russell, George Haritos

Schell Games expanding to Station Square offices

Schell Games, the South Side-based videogame developer is expanding its operations and will move from its space at 2313 East Carson Street this spring, but it won’t be going far — two miles down the road, to be exact.

“We’re going to be in Bessemer Court, which is located in across the street from the main mall area in Station Square,” says Schell spokesperson Jill Sciulli.

The award-winning, local game developer, now entering its 12th year of business, has occupied its South Side location for the past six years. The new space won’t just be bigger, but more convenient for both Schell’s employees and clients.

“I think the location will be a lot easier for clients to come visit, as well as a bit more accommodating to them. It’s a much more [tourist-friendly] place, and if they spend the night, they’ll have an easier time taking advantage of what Pittsburgh has to offer,” Sciulli says.

Though she couldn’t detail specifications, Scuilli described the new space as consisting of two floors with a mezzanine and large windows

“In terms of creativity, we feel it will allow our employees to explore their creativity and inspire them,” she added.

After the move, Schell will also look to add to its workforce and will add up to 10 new employees later this year. The company currently employs about 100 people.

Writer: Matthew Wein
Source: Jill Sciulli

East Liberty Whole Foods plans expansion, more parking

Since it opened in 2002, the East Liberty Whole Foods has provided Pittsburgh with something nobody before thought possible: a parking circumstance more maddening than the North Shore during a Steelers game, combined with Starlake after a Tom Petty concert, multiplied by East Carson Street on St. Patrick’s Day.

Now, after nearly 12 years of parking anarchy, the Mosites Company is working with Whole Foods, not only to expand parking, but the market itself.

The proposed plan would see a second parking deck installed above the current ground-level lot, as well as a 6,900-square-foot second floor added to the market. That, plus an additional 8,300 square feet of proposed retail space on the ground floor will increase the market’s size by about 60 percent and net the store 52 additional parking spaces.

“The goal is to have the shell and the deck done by mid-September, and then there will be interior work that will take between three and six months,” says Steve Mosites, the development company’s president, who added that initial construction could begin as soon as March. “Right now, we’re working through the permit process, and we still need to get some variances from the city.”

While the store will remain open during construction, it will force the current parking lot to close from June through August. Mosites says that his company is working on alternative parking solutions to accommodate shoppers, and his talking with AAA about securing spaces in their lot across Centre Avenue.

Writer: Matthew Wein
Source: Steve Mosites

Mayor's office announces pothole blitz

Rare is the Pittsburgher who’s seen a winter turn into a spring, a spring into a summer and a summer into a fall and thought, “how is it that they still haven’t fixed all the potholes from last year?”

In his second week on the job, Mayor Bill Peduto is getting a head start. His office announced yesterday that city’s department of public works will take advantage of the recent spate of warm weather and fix as many of the current potholes as possible over the next 72 hours, working around the clock as long as the weather remains clement.

The city will have 17 crews filling potholes during the day and another 10 crews working overnight shifts. The mayor has enlisted the help of the City Parks maintenance staff to assist the DPW during what’s thought to be the city’s first “pothole blitz.”

The mayor will discuss the initiative this morning at a news conference with Chief Operations Officer Guy Costa and District 2 Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith.

Peduto is encouraging residents to assist the city by reporting potholes to 311.

Writer: Matthew Wein
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