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Penn A Caster Loft Offices want to rock the Strip

An office building in the Strip District is getting a rock and roll makeover. Its exterior walls will soon be wrapped in the likeness of a giant, backlit guitar as the building formerly known as 3030 Penn Avenue becomes the Penn A Caster Loft Offices.

Tusk Development bought the 24,000 square-foot building late last year and wanted to give it a new identity. So when co-owner Jim Genstein returned from a trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, they were inspired to give it a new guitar-centric theme.

In addition to the exterior changes, an interior lobby has been redeveloped and now features a guitar touchscreen that controls a video wall and streaming music. Lami Grubb Architects is the project architect.

The three-story building was built in the early 1900s as a warehouse and stored salt as well as the horse-driven carriages that drove goods to and from the nearby Allegheny River.

Genstein’s partner Andy Schaer says the office space is ideal for a tech or creative services company. The loft offices feature brick walls and exposed beams, as well as abundant natural light.

The building is wired for any tech company’s needs—including battery backup for uninterrupted power—and could be built-out to meet tenant needs. The site also includes over 100 parking spaces.

The name Penn A Caster is derived from the Fender Telecaster guitar, which has been played by countless musicians including Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, and George Harrison.

Schaer expects the new guitar-clad facade to be complete within the next eight weeks.

Writer: Andrew Moore
Source: Andy Schaer

Pittsburgh's Bus Rapid Transit effort gets grant from Rockefeller Foundation

The initiative to get Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) rolling between Downtown and Oakland has been given another boost with a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. The grant will support research, communications, and community outreach efforts to engage and educate the public on the benefits of BRT.

GetTherePGH, a BRT Stakeholders Advisory Committee, facilitated by Sustainable Pittsburgh, welcomed last week’s announcement as well the opportunity to continue working with the community to raise awareness about the BRT project.

Though specifics of the grant are yet to be determined, Sustainable Pittsburgh’s Court Gould says the Rockefeller Foundation has shown an interest in enabling citizens to have a voice in determining what BRT projects should look like, let alone whether they should be implemented at all.

BRT is a form of bus transit that operates similarly to a rail system—though less expensive to implement—with dedicated stations, route priority, and platform fare collection, among other efficiency measures.

The Rockefeller Foundation has awarded $1.2 million to be split among four cities: Nashville, Boston, Chicago, and Pittsburgh. The funding initiative is part of the foundation’s Transform Cities effort.

“Rockefeller having competitively identified Pittsburgh in the echelon of the other three is a significant validation of several years of concerted effort here to study the benefits of Bus Rapid Transit,” Gould says.

Pittsburgh’s BRT effort is an outgrowth of recommendations from the Port Authority of Allegheny County’s 2009 Transit Development Planning Process, a comprehensive review of the agency’s entire system.  BRT served as a key component of serving Downtown to Oakland, and to the East End, Gould says.

The Bravo Group, a public relations firm, has been selected to lead the outreach effort in Pittsburgh.

Writer: Andrew Moore
Source: Court Gould

New apartments coming to Downtown's quiet First Avenue

Developer Todd Palcic is planning to bring 35 new apartment units to a quiet, village-like corner of Downtown Pittsburgh.

The project is a renovation of the eight-story former Graphic Arts building located at 422 First Avenue on one of Downtown’s least-traveled corridors. “It’s almost like a mini Greenwich Village,” Palcic says, because it’s quiet and clean, yet bounded by the much busier Boulevard of the Allies and Fort Pitt Boulevard.

And though it’s quiet, the First Avenue apartments will be near many Downtown institutions, including the Art Institute of Pittsburgh—which is just across the street—and Point Park University, which Palcic says will also soon occupy two existing buildings on First Avenue.

Palcic has also bought an adjacent lot at the First Avenue site to be used for tenant parking.

The First Avenue apartments will be a mix of one- and two-bedroom apartments, though the specifics are to be determined. Half of the units will feature views of the Monongahela River, South Side, and Mount Washington. Indovina Associates Architects are the project architects.

Palcic is looking for ideas for the first-floor retail space, as well the built-out, semi-finished basement. “Between the two I think there are a lot of possibilities,” he says.

The developer has had success in Downtown’s Cultural District to the point that he says there’s very little development work left in that neighborhood. Palcic has already created 24 condo units in Downtown, at L'Enfant Lofts and other projects. And the soon-to-open Lando Lofts development will add 27 new apartment units at 907-909 Penn Avenue.

Renovation of the structure is expected to begin next year, and Palcic hopes to have it completed in 2015.

Writer: Andrew Moore
Source: Todd Palcic

Award nominations sought for upcoming Community Development Summit

With the  Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group (PCRG) celebrating 25 years at its upcoming Community Development Summit, the organization is currently seeking nominations for the awards ceremony portion of that event.

Categories include the Community Development Awards and the Neighborhood Leader Award in Memory of Bob O'Connor.

Community Development Awards are given to projects or programs that create a positive, lasting impact on the physical, social, or cultural fabric of a community, says Katie Hale, PCRG’s Neighborhood Policy Manager.

Recent winners include the Gardens of Millvale, a borough-wide greening initiative that includes land acquisition for community gardens, education outreach, and the engagement of over 300 volunteers.

Hale says the Gardens of Millvale has become “one of the most thriving community garden efforts in the region.”

Another recent Community Development winner is the Green+Screen streetscape beautification initiative of the Penn Avenue Arts District. A project of the Bloomfield Garfield Corporation, Green+Screen engages designers to use sustainable materials to “screen” the view of empty lots or parking lots.

And the Neighborhood Leader Award, given in memory of Bob O’Connor, recognizes an individual who exemplifies the late mayor’s dedication to neighborhood improvement.

The deadline for nominations is Friday, April 19th, and the awards ceremony will be held on May 21st.

The Community Development Summit will take places May 21-22nd, at the Omni William Penn Hotel, in Downtown Pittsburgh. The summit will include four mobile workshops, highlighting revitalization efforts in Pittsburgh neighborhoods, as well as several keynote speakers and networking events.

Writer: Andrew Moore
Source: Katie Hale

Schenley Drive to get skinny; Panther Hollow watershed restoration

Schenley Drive is going on a diet.

The road, which cuts through the Bob O’Connor Golf Course, will get a “skinny street” makeover as part of the upcoming Panther Hollow watershed restoration project.

Because of stormwater runoff, Panther Hollow Lake—which is at the bottom of the watershed in Schenley Park—has gone from a recreational pond to a polluted eyesore.  And its plight is just one of the more visible effects of the park’s stormwater runoff problem.

The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy (PPC) is implementing a number of new green infrastructure designs to improve the park’s stream and groundwater recharge health.

The “skinny street” project, which will narrow the 40-foot-wide road to approximately 26 feet, will divert more than 3 million gallons annually of runoff by introducing porous surfaces to the roadway. It is the third pilot project in the restoration project.

Through public meetings, PPC learned that many residents feel unsafe in the park because of speeding vehicles.

“We could have a really big impact by narrowing the street,” says Erin Copeland, senior restoration ecologist with PPC.  “We have the opportunity to improve so many different aspects of watershed health, and recreational experience in the park.”

Adjacent to the road, infiltration berms will channel water into rain garden wetlands, and a new porous pathway for pedestrians and bicycles will run along the road, separated by a buffer of plants. This design will allow water to soak into the ground slowly and prevent erosion.

The pathway would still be paved—not crushed limestone or gravel—but the application will actually soak in water to the subsurface layer. Cyclists will still be welcome in the Schenley Drive roadway, Copeland says, where sharrows will be painted.

Designs for the “skinny street” have yet to be reviewed Department of Transportation traffic engineers.  Copeland says the first two pilot projects are shovel ready and could begin as early as this summer.

PPC is completing the green infrastructure projects with support from the Department of Public Works, City Planning, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, Alcosan, as well as the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, and PPC volunteers.

Writer: Andrew Moore
Source: Erin Copeland

Eat + Drink: Il Pizzaiolo in Market Square; Aspara Cafe; The Steer and Wheel food truck

Eat + Drink is Pop City's weekly roundup of Pittsburgh's food scene.

- One of Pittsburgh’s newest food trucks is The Steer and Wheel, which serves antibiotic- and hormone-free beef burgers. All beef is sourced locally from Penn's Corner Farm Alliance, ground fresh daily on the truck, and served on Mediterra Bakehouse breads and rolls.

Burgers included the Chesapeake (Old Bay rub); The Bacon Squared (balsamic bacon jam, chive cheddar, lettuce, tomato, bacon on an onion roll); and the Andre (bacon, lettuce, tomato, avocado, smoked gouda, grain mustard on an onion roll).

To find The Steer and Wheel food truck, look for them at The Coffee Buddha (often along with the PGH Taco Truck), or follow them on Twitter or Facebook. 412-230-7323.

- Apsara Cafe has opened in the South Side, a new restaurant offering Thai and Cambodian cuisine. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner, seven days a week. 1703 East Carson Street. 412-251-0664.

- Il Pizzaiolo’s opened a second location in Market Square, serving its highly regarded and authentic Neapolitan-style pizza. Like the Mt. Lebanon original, the new restaurant’s pizzas are cooked in a wood-burning ovens, built by Italian artisans.

Il Pizzaiolo replaces the former Lubin and Smalley flower shop at 8 Market Square (between Starbucks and Moe’s Southwest Grill). The 40-seat restaurant includes a bar on each level of the storefront space. 412-575-5853.

- On Monday, April 22nd, Downtown’s Vallozzi’s will host a benefit dinner and film screening of Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. The event is a benefit for the Western Pennsylvania & West Virginia Chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Tickets are $20, and can be purchased online or at the door; for more information contact: rachealleelacek@gmail.com. 226 Fifth Avenue. Monday, April 22nd, 6:00 to 9:00 p.m.

Writer: Andrew Moore

Who's Downtown? Population is younger and they use transit

Downtown Pittsburgh's resident population has increased by more than 30% in the past 12 years, and its population is getting younger.

The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership (PDP) released two new reports—with information from the 2012 Pedestrian Traffic Study and the 2012 Downtown Pittsburgh Resident Survey—that shed light on who Downtown residents are, and what they do.

"This research provides us with excellent insight that can be utilized in business attraction and retention initiatives, highlighting the growth and progress we have seen throughout Downtown over the last few years," said PDP President and CEO Jeremy Waldrup in a statement.

The studies show that 45% of Downtown residents are under the age of 40, and 27% are under the age of 30, compared to 47% and 26% in 2010, respectively.

As for the general pedestrian population, over half travel to and from Downtown using the public transit system, either the “T” or a bus, according to the PDP.

The report also says that pedestrians spend an average of $108 per week at Downtown establishments, including $40 on food and drink. About $37 is spent on retail per week, $13 on sporting events, $11 on entertainment, and $7 on miscellaneous services.

More than half of Downtown households are now comprised of more than one person, an increase from 40% in the 2010 resident survey.

And overall, Downtown residents are happy with their chosen neighborhood; 74% of  respondents expressed that they were “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with their Downtown living experience, and on a scale of one to nine, the average score was eight.

Residents cited the availability of entertainment, restaurants, and events in a walkable environment as contributing to the favorability of living downtown.

Writer: Andrew Moore
Source: Leigh Ann White, PDP

Federal Hill final phase now under construction, 44 new homes in Northside

The third and final phase of the Federal Hill development is underway in the Central Northside, a project that has brought a total of 44 new homes to the historic neighborhood.

The current phase (2A) of six new townhomes brings to a close the five-year project.

Federal Hill is a project of the Central Northside Neighborhood Council (CNNC), S&A Homes and the URA, along with architects Rothschild Doyno Collaborative. The three- and four-bedroom homes range from 1,400 to 2,300 square feet, and units on the corners of each block include a third-floor, open-air balcony.

All of the new homes are under contract with buyers. Andy Haines of S&A Homes says his company receives continuous calls of interest for Federal Hill.

“It's one of our best selling developments throughout the three states we work in,” Haines says.

Every home in each previous phase has also been sold. Home prices range from $130,000 to $220,000, with individualized upgrades up to $80,000. The majority of new homes were built along Federal Street, however a few infill homes were constructed on adjacent Alpine Street.

Federal Hill is one of several redevelopment projects in the neighborhood, including a new branch of the Carnegie Library, which opened in 2009, several new businesses including El Burro Comedor and Crazy Mocha, and the ongoing redevelopment of the Garden Theater Block.

Haines says that although the project has been challenging in terms of financing—with funds from state and local agencies—the satisfaction level has been very high.

“The end result is we made a difference on the street, we made a difference in the neighborhood,” Haines says. “It's a good investment of public dollars.”

Writer: Andrew Moore
Source: Andy Haines

Upcoming mayoral forum to ask candidates how they plan to support neighborhoods

Though the number of candidates continues to change, one thing is for sure: Pittsburgh will elect a new mayor on November 5th. And so a local community group is asking, how will that new mayor work with individual neighborhoods to continue revitalization throughout the city?

Next Thursday, April 11th, the Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group (PCRG) is hosting a mayoral forum to ask that question and more. Each candidate will explain how they plan to support, equitably and transparently, the revitalization of neighborhoods and catalyze investment in them.

“A lot of Pittsburgh’s rebirth over the past several years really came out of the work that’s been going on in neighborhoods and the leadership there,” says PCRG’s Chris Sandvig.

Sandvig says it’s important for neighborhood leaders to know how each candidate’s mayoral decisions would impact their communities, in terms of federal funding, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, and more.

“The next mayor has a huge impact on whether we continue our rebirth as a city, and our position nationally and internationally,” Sandvig says.  “Everything we see from both a national and local perspective, neighborhoods are really where it’s at in the future for a city's vitality, and also their competitiveness.”

PCRG is a coalition of community-based organizations that advocates for strong, healthy neighborhoods in Allegheny County.

State Representative Jake Wheatley, City Councilman Bill Peduto, and former State Auditor General Jack Wagner will be in attendance, according Sandvig. The three candidates are seeking the Democratic nomination for mayor. The event will not be a debate.

The event, co-sponsored by the Design Center, is free and open to the public. It will be held at the Union Project, 801 North Negley Avenue, on April 11th at 6:00 p.m.  To RSVP by Friday, April 5th, contact csandvig@pcrg.org.

Writer: Andrew Moore
Source: Chris Sandvig

TALKPGH to host talk shows in each of Pittsburgh's 90 neighborhods

Throughout April a transparent box truck will visit each of Pittsburgh’s 90 neighborhoods to conduct mini “talk shows,” an effort to gather the ideas and opinions of city residents on public art and urban design.

The project is called TALKPGH, a mobile public art project through the Department of City Planning. Local artist Jon Rubin—of The Waffle Shop and Conflict Kitchen—is facilitating these conversations, along with his film crew and City staff.

Information gathered through this process will aid in the development of ARTPGH and DESIGNPGH, components of PLANPGH, the City’s first ever comprehensive plan for growth over the next 25 years.

Morton Brown, the City's Public Art Manager, says the point of TALKPGH is to reach residents that wouldn't usually attend planning meetings, by creating an event that is novel and engaging.

The talk shows—conducted in the truck bed—will be recorded and will air as a web series this summer on the TALKPGH website. A compilation of the talk shows will also be presented in a public format, though details are yet to be determined.

Project leaders hope the experience will encourage residents to become more involved with the PLANPGH process, and to attend its upcoming community meetings.

TALKPGH is looking for community liaisons, interviewees, and suggested film locations for each of the city’s 90 neighborhoods. Residents can sign up at the project’s website, or by calling 408-800-3176.

Additionally, there will be six “open house” meetings for ARTPGH and  DESIGNPGH. For planning purposes, the city has been divided into six study areas. Upcoming meetings will be held in each of the six study areas, and include Monday, April 22nd (drop in anytime from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m.), The Kaufman Center, 1825 Centre Avenue; and Tuesday, April 23rd (drop in anytime from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m.), Schenley Ice Rink, 10341 Overlook Drive. 

For a full list of community meetings, visit the PLANPGH website.

Writer: Andrew Moore
Source: Morton Brown

Urban Stitches hopes to build a community of sewers

Although Tameka Reed comes from a long line of seamstresses, she learned to sew in her middle school home economics class. So when she learned that many area schools had dropped sewing from their curriculum, she decided to open a business that would help the craft continue to thrive.

Reed’s recently opened Urban Stitches shop is a sewing lounge that she hopes will inspire crafters of all ages to pick up needle and thread for the first time, as well as provide a supportive, social environment for more advanced sewers.

At her Monroeville facility Reed offers weekly classes for adults and youth, in addition to open studio hours for independent work. Her Introduction to Sewing class allows newcomers to use sewing machines for the first time, and complete a series of small projects.

"Learning the basics is a good thing to get you out of catastrophies," Reed says, "and I've had several wardrobe disasters over the years that sewing came in handy for."

Additional workshops include dressmaking, children’s wear, alterations, and contemporary quilting, as well as men’s fashion. Classes range from $35 to $150 for single-day and multiple-day workshops.

Reed says her fashion sewing classes are geared for working women wanting to make or amend career clothing that is hip and contemporary.

Reed hopes Urban Stitches can introduce sewing to new audiences—especially within Pittsburgh’s vibrant maker community—as a creative, useful skill. "Things are finally starting to trend back toward things made by hand, and crafting, and things that you can make and put your own personal little stamp on," she says.

In addition to Urban Stitches, Reed teaches sewing at Westinghouse High School in Homewood through the YWCA's After School Program.

Urban Stitches is located at 3948 Monroeville Blvd, Suite 1 in the Presidential Village Plaza, Monroeville.

Writer: Andrew Moore
Source: Tameka Reed

CCAC celebrates opening of K. Leroy Irvis Science Center

The Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) celebrated the opening of the new K. Leroy Irvis Science Center on Monday at its Allegheny Campus on the Northside. The five-story, LEED certified building features state-of-the art science equipment, e-learning capabilities, and supports biotechnology, microbiology, and astronomy, among several other programs.

The 65,000-square-foot science center contains eight classrooms, numerous study areas and 16 laboratories. A rooftop observatory, capable of electronically projecting images into classrooms, is scheduled to be completed soon.

"You can do so many things with all of those variations in technology," says Campus President Donna L. Imhoff. "There's so many different ways to teach now."

The building is named for the late State Representative K. Leroy Irvis, a champion of community colleges in the Commonwealth.  His co-sponsorship of the Pennsylvania Community College Act of 1964 created the state's community college system, and led to the founding of CCAC three years later. “If not for him, community colleges wouldn't exist at all,” Imhoff says.

The science center, located at 808 Ridge Avenue, was designed by Hayes Large Architects and has earned a LEED Silver Energy rating.

Other programs that will be served by the new facility include biology, anatomy and physiology, chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, geology, and physical science.

Writer: Andrew Moore
Source: Donna Imhoff

Pittsburgh office building earns highest LEED ranking in state, fifth best in world

One of the Pittsburgh region's leading construction companies has a new headquarters that's now among the "greenest" in the world.

Sota Construction Services Inc. achieved LEED Platinum Certification recently for its own office building, in Bellevue, earning the most LEED points ever awarded to a project in Pennsylvania, and the fifth-highest score in the entire LEED system worldwide.

The office building includes passive and high efficiency active radiant slab heating and cooling; natural ventilation; use of natural materials including straw bale and cob wall construction, reused and recycled materials; day lighting; rainwater harvesting; and low water use fixtures.

Ernie Sota, President of Sota Construction Services, says that while many new LEED structures are criticized for high energy consumption, this building is actually performing better than energy models had projected. "We focused on energy here very much from the original design," he says.

In addition to having an efficient thermal envelope, rooftop solar panels are producing up to 70 percent of the building's energy needs.

Sota says the building's use of cob wall construction—an ancient building method that is a mixture of sand, clay, and straw—demonstrates the viability of it and other "self-assembled" materials in Southwestern Pennsylvania. "Those natural building materials," he says, "[are] possibly a pathway to a kind of unlimited green future for all of us.”

Design and construction was done by a large local and international team, including evolveEA, Studio d’Arc , ARUP International, Building Science Corporation, Iams Consulting, Tudi Mechanical, Greenweavers, and Construction Junction.

The Green Building Alliance will offer tours of the building during its Earth Day at Ernie’s event on Thursday, April 18th, from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. For more information and to register, visit the GBA’s website here.

Writer: Andrew Moore
Source: Ernie Sota

From Etsy to a storefront: Garbella's handmade goods and gear

In just a few short years Amy Garbark has turned a screen-printing hobby into a thriving storefront business.

Garbella, Garbark's hand-screen-printed apparel, accessories and home goods line, began as an Etsy store in 2006 but now boasts distribution in over 50 stores across the country, and locally in boutiques like Lawrenceville's WildCard. In May Garbark is moving production to a storefront in Lower Lawrenceville, a building she has recently bought with her husband, Stephen Cummings.

 "I've always been a maker," Garbark says, "In 2008 I set up a little studio in my basement, and started from there."

Garbark's first foray into screen-printing began with an I Bike Pittsburgh t-shirt, made just for herself and friends, at Artists Image Resource (AIR). But the shirt became popular with other cyclists in the city, and remains a top seller. Other designs include P is For Pierogi baby onesies and bibs, a line of women's and men's clothing, clocks made from reused bicycle parts, as well as kitchen items and tote bags.

With exposure at The Handmade Arcade and I Made It! Market craft shows Garbella continued to grow, and in 2008 it became her fulltime job. As the business grew and production slowly took over her living space, Garbella clearly needed a home of its own. In preparation for her first wholesale industry tradeshow last August, Garbark moved production to a small storefront in Morningside.

But when the space in Lawrenceville became available—a small, 1,000-square-foot, one-story commercial structure amidst residences—it offered Garbark an opportunity to create a custom production facility suited to Garbella’s specific needs. Garbark is working with JCI Development to raise the flat roof, create storage space, and install skylights that will add an abundance of natural lighting.

Garbark and Cummings have lived in Lawrenceville for several years. "I am excited to bring my business back here and be able to easily walk or ride my bike to work," Garbark says.

Writer: Andrew Moore
Source: Amy Garbark

Eat + Drink: Tender Bar + Kitchen; Notion now open; Redbeard's; The Pub Chip Shop

Eat + Drink is Pop City's weekly roundup of Pittsburgh's food scene.

- Tender Bar + Kitchen will celebrate a grand opening next Friday, April 5th. The restaurant features a “Gatsby-era atmosphere,” regional American cuisine, and a craft cocktail list.

Renovations to the restaurant’s historic building—the former Arsenal Bank—unearthed artifacts such as bank checks from the 1890’s, a pair of handmade stone dice, and a vault alarm system, whose 1930’s electronics will be on display in the restaurant.

Tender is the second concept from Verde Mexican Kitchen & Cantina proprietor Jeff Catalina.  The menu includes regional dishes such as lobster rolls, meatloaf, and shrimp and grits. Tender is located at 4300 Butler Street, Lawrenceville. 412-402-9522.

- Notion has reopened in East Liberty. Chef-owner David Racicot closed the original Oakmont eatery in late 2011 with plans to bring the restaurant to a more central location in Pittsburgh. The smaller, 28-seat space is located at 128 S. Highland Avenue, near the neighborhood's many popular dining destinations, including BRGR, Abay Ethiopian Cuisine, Paris 66, and more.

- Piper's Pub owner Drew Topping is opening a new United Kingdom-style fish-and-chip shop called The Pub Chip Shop. The menu will include pasties, a stuffed British pastry, and other U.K. take-out fare.  It will be located in the adjacent Victorian storefront to Piper's Pub, at 1830 E. Carson Street. 

- Redbeard's  on 6th Sports Bar and Grill is opening soon in Downtown Pittsburgh, at 144 6th Street. It is a second location of the original Redbeard’s, which has served Mount Washington for more than 20 years.

Redbeard’s replaces the former Palazzo Ristorante, and is adjacent to Six Penn Kitchen. The Roberto Clemente Bridge is just one block away, which connects pedestrians to PNC Park on Pirates game days.

Writer: Andrew Moore
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