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Great Allegheny Passage on track for spring completion; celebration date set

Mark your calendars: the final segments of the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) will soon be complete.

On June 15th, a celebration will be held to mark the opening of the new trail segments, currently under construction at Sandcastle Waterpark and Keystone Metals.

The event, titled Point Made!, will take place in West Homestead and at Point State Park in Downtown Pittsburgh.

The GAP trail is a 141 mile car-free route for cyclists and hikers running from Pittsburgh, PA to Cumberland, Maryland.  In Cumberland the GAP joins the C&O Canal Towpath, which together creates a continuous, 325-mile long trail from Pittsburgh to Washington D.C.

Allegheny Trail Alliance President Linda Boxx says the idea for the GAP trail was first discussed over 40 years ago in 1973. Since then, the project has chugged along with trail segments built over time, occasionally just a mile at a time.

And in the Mon Valley, the Alliance didn’t have access to railroad properties. “We were basically negotiating with individual property owners piece by piece to put that alignment together,” Boxx says.

The event will begin a ribbon-cutting near Sandcastle, followed by a bike ride to The Point, where the party will take place. Boxx says the ride will be a bicycle parade party.

Construction of the final segments, which began last October, will actually be completed ahead of the event, by late May.

Point Made! will be preceded by a week-long bicycle ride from Washington D.C. to Pittsburgh, as well as a 24-hour relay that will leave D.C. on Friday and arrive Pittsburgh on the 8th

“There will be a lot of opportunities for communities to jump in and help us celebrate this great accomplishment,” Boxx says. “So many hands over so many years.”
Writer: Andrew Moore
Source:  Linda Boxx

Luxury apartments recommended for reuse of former Schenley High School in Oakland

Luxury apartments may be in store for the historic former Schenley High School in Oakland.

The recommended proposal calls for a $36.9 million renovation that would create 175 apartments and a fitness center, making use of an existing gym.

Fourth River Development recently released its recommendation to sell the building to PMC/Schenley HSB Associates for $5.2 million. Fourth River was hired by the Pittsburgh Public Schools to manage the marketing and bidding of the former high school.

Fourth River’s Pat Morosetti says the panel review committee did a full evaluation of all proposals, and PMC’s stood above all the rest.

“The benefits to the community we believe stood above and beyond the others,” he says. “They’re a very focused group with a strong business model proven in the Pittsburgh market, and we expect nothing but the same from them with the proposed Schenley redevelopment."

The school board is expected to vote on the proposal on February 27th, while reserving the right to reject any bids. A public comment meeting will be held on February 25th, at 6:00 p.m., at the board's headquarters on Bellefield Avenue in Oakland.

PMC Property Group was the highest bidder. In 2011, the company had successfully bid for the same building for $2 million, and was then the lone bidder for the project. Recently, PMC successfully converted the former Verizon building, in Downtown, into apartments and the City Charter High School.

Other proposals include Kossman Development Co. and Provident Charter School, at $4.6 million with 115 units of housing and a charter school for 336 dyslexic children; AWSVPA/Edward Alexei, $4.1 million, creating the Andy Warhol School of Visual and Performing Arts; Ralph A. Falbo Inc. and Beacon Communities Development, $4 million, 123 market-rate apartments.

Writer:  Andrew Moore
Source:  Pat Morosetti

Catalytic Projects Program offers new round of neighborhood development grants, apply now

A new round of grants is set to boost neighborhood development throughout Pittsburgh.

The Pittsburgh Partnership for Neighborhood Development (PPND) is investing in organizations that work to improve communities and the quality of residents’ lives with $20,000 to $75,000 in grants and loans.

PPND’s Sarah Perry says a goal of the program is to help innovative ideas get off the ground. 

“They need to have some element of improving the well-being of a neighborhood,” Perry says. “That could be improving the face of a neighborhood, or improving the access to quality education for the kids that live in a neighborhood.”

This is the second round of funding for the new Catalytic Projects Program, which was launched last fall. Through the first round of grants, PPND invested $368,750 in neighborhood development.

The current round of funding has been expanded to include any nonprofit organization, not just traditional community development corporations.

The funding is meant to support two phases of projects: feasibility and testing, and new project implementation. For feasibility and testing, PPND hopes the Catalytic Program can push emerging ideas through the early risk-taking stages of development.

PPND is encouraging proposals that involve collaboration across sectors, neighborhoods, and unlikely partners. There will be two more rounds of funding in 2013.

The deadline for submission is February 25th, 2013.  Visit the PPND website to apply. 

Writer: Andrew Moore
Source: Sarah Perry

GoBurgh releases transit-oriented development study, road map for advancing region's transit

A new study was released last week making the case for transit-oriented development (TOD) in the Pittsburgh region.

GoBurgh’s Chris Sandvig says the new report offers a clear strategy for advancing TOD, a type of development he calls an economic engine where investments should be made. His organization’s previous reports have offered ideas on why TOD is important; now they’re showing how it can be done.

Founded in 2009, GoBurgh is a non-partisan transit advocacy organization, and is part of the Regional Policy program of the Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group (PCRG).

The report offers a county-wide framework for understanding where key TOD opportunities exist, an implementation system, as well as important actions to be taken, including policy changes.

Sandvig hopes the study can help direct public policy in Allegheny County, as well as educate the region’s developers about the benefits of TOD and the current opportunities that exist.

Recommendations include modifying transit station design and system operations; addressing gaps in funding availability for small- to mid-size infrastructure improvements; and offering a consistent source of funds for station area visioning and planning.

The study was conducted by the Center for Transit-Oriented Development (CTOD) and commissioned by the PCRG under the auspices of its GoBurgh initiative.  It was funded by the Heinz Endowments.

“Coming from a national organization that works with many cities and regions to achieve TOD, I think Pittsburgh can be a model for other places trying to maximize the potential of their current transit networks,” said Abigail Thorne-Lyman, Director of CTOD, in a statement.

Writer: Andrew Moore
Source:  Chris Sandvig

Eat and Drink: Butcher and Rye downtown and Gaucho Wood-fired Grill in the Strip District

Eat + Drink is Pop City's roundup of Pittsburgh's food scene
Having turned away dozens of potential patrons night after night, Meat & Potatoes owners have announced they will open a second location nearby, Butcher and Rye, this June across from Heinz Hall in the former Palate space.   
“Every time I walked by Palate, I thought it would be nice (to reopen the space),” says Tolga Sevdik, co-owner with Richard DeShantz of Meat & Potatoes on Penn Avenue. “It’s such a great location.”
The new restaurant will seat 85 and feature a menu similar to the popular gastro pub, with perhaps slightly smaller plates. Sticking with a winning formula, it will specialize in classic cocktails, bourbon and rye. The Meat and Potatoes sous chef will move over to the new location, which promises the same farm-to-table fare that has made Meat & Potatoes an award-winning favorite.

The bar will remain on the mezzanine level with some renovation to create a more appealing front entrance. Shantz and Sevdik also plan to open a third casual dining restaurant, Pork & Beans, in Lawrenceville later this year.
In more casual dining, Pittsburgh’s first Argentinian parrilla has opened, Gaucho Parrilla Argentina Wood-Fired Grill at 1607 Penn Ave. in the Strip District.
Chef and owner Anthony Falcon, a native of Brooklyn, NY, was previously the executive chef and food and beverage director at Southpointe Country Club. Falcon says the restaurant was inspired by his Argentinian father and uncle who took one look at the Strip District and said:
“You gotta open something down here. You’ll sell 100 chickens a day.”
Located in the former Big Mama’s, Falcon has created a cozy and casual stand-and-eat and take-out spot with a sizzling selection of hearty grilled dishes, steak and vegetable  sandwiches, sausages, chicken and fish.
The concept is working. Since opening two weeks ago, lines have been winding out the door with patrons drawn by the smoky flavors of the hickory wood-burning fire.
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Tolga Sevdik, Butcher & Rye; Anthony Falcon, Gaucho

City to sponsor Edible Gardens throughout Pittsburgh, $100,000 Cities of Service grant

As urban gardening continues to gain momentum, the City of Pittsburgh is now sponsoring a targeted edible gardens program.

Part of Green Up Pittsburgh, Mayor Ravenstahl’s new Edible Gardens program seeks to transform vacant lots into food producing spaces that not only feed the community but beautify it too.

The funds will enable neighborhood volunteers to purchase materials for constructing raised beds, purchase tools, seeds, or even fruit trees and shrubs. The program is targeting 10 to 15 low-income neighborhoods where access to fresh produce is limited.

For several years the City has supported neighborhood organizations and allowed gardening on city-owned properties. Through Green Up Pittsburgh, more than 125 green spaces have been created, says mayoral spokesperson Joanna Doven. And existing garden groups can also apply for funding.

Edible Gardens is made possible by a $100,000 Cities of Service Impact Volunteering Fund grant, funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies. The funds were awarded to support two of the administration’s servePGH initiatives.

The grant also funds a city “cool roofs” initiative, where city-owned buildings are topped with reflective white paint, keeping facilities cooler and offering savings on summer energy costs. 

Of 60 applicants, Pittsburgh is one of 19 cities to receive the Cities of Service grant. Partners in the project include Grow Pittsburgh and The Penn State Center.

Applications are required, and those received by February 22 will be given priority.  Applications will continue to be accepted throughout the growing season. The first gardens are scheduled for planting in March and April. 

Writer:  Andrew Moore
Source:  Joanna Doven

Eat + Drink: Casa Rasta, Pizzarita, Texas de Brazil, Egyptian in Brookline: Isis Cafe

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

The popular Beechview restaurant Casa Rasta has reopened at a new space on Broadway Avenue, just two doors down from its original location. While patrons can still order tacos and burritos—like jerk chicken or citrus marinated pork—an expanded menu now includes appetizers, entrees, and desserts. 

Chef Antonio Fraga says these new menu items are an even better showcase of Casa Rasta’s fusion of Caribbean and Mexican flavors, including beef tongue with avocado or Isleño sauce, and a Caribbean salad with grilled pineapple, roasted corn, and spicy coconut.

The new space—at 2056 Broadway Avenue—also includes a full-service bar, though a liquor license is still pending. The restaurant seats up to 60, including a seasonal outdoor dining area. 

In the former Casa Rasta space—which sat only ten, and was primarily take-out—Fraga and his wife, Laura, plan to open a vegan and vegetarian restaurant serving Rastafarian Ital cuisine. They expect to open the new eatery within the next several months.

Casa Rasta first opened just over a year ago, in December 2011. Previously the couple had briefly operated a taco stand in the Strip District. 412-918-9683.

- Texas de Brazil has announced it will open a new, 7,500-square-foot restaurant in the South Side’s Station Square. It will be the Brazilian steakhouse’s 27th location. Seating over 200, the restaurant will include an interchangeable bar and patio space with river views.  Visit the restaurant's website to stay updated on an opening date.

- Isis Café, a new restaurant serving Egyptian cuisine, opened recently in Brookline.  Its menu features traditional Egyptian dishes—including okra tagen, duck with honey, samboussa, and fava bean falafel—with special entrees changing daily.

Isis is open for lunch Tuesday through Saturday, and offers a Sunday brunch.  815 Brookline Boulevard. 412-207-2485.

- Pizzarita opened recently in Shaler Township, the third pizzeria owned by the Posteraro family.  It joins Bloomfield’s Angelo’s and Grazzino’s pizza shops.  Located off Route 8 (580 Burchfield Road), Pizzarita is open Tuesday through Sunday. 412-487-1112.

Writer:  Andrew Moore

ZipPitt plans to run zip line from Mount Washington to North Shore

Adam Young is one step closer to flying from Mount Washington to the North Shore.  The Carnegie resident is proposing a zip line that would sail from near the Duquesne Incline to the Carnegie Science Center.

ZipPitt, as the project is called, was awarded a $1,000 Awesome Pittsburgh grant last week.  The organization has also helped Young with strategizing and advising on how to make this dream of flight a reality.

 “We think it will be pretty amazing taking in the view from that perspective,” Young says.  “I think it would be great for the residents and people visiting Pittsburgh to immerse themselves into the essence of the cityscape.”

The half-mile proposed zip line would cross the Ohio River at 50 mph and with a 400 foot vertical drop. Young will use the grant funds to bring a national zip line company to Pittsburgh to conduct a feasability study.

Young says the project has verbal arrangements with property owners at the proposed take-off and landing sites.  A landing platform would be constructed at the North Shore location with enough height to prevent interference with river traffic.

ZipPitt still needs approvals and permits from the City of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and the Army Corps of Engineers. 

Young says currently the only urban zip line in the United States is in Las Vegas, where for five blocks riders sail between buildings in that city’s downtown skyline. 

ZipPitt would cost customers approximately $30 to ride.  Young believes it would of interest to city visitors, particularly those riding bikes or renting kayaks near other North Shore attractions, as well as city residents.

Awesome Pittsburgh, which awarded its most recent grant to ZipPitt, is a local chapter of the Awesome Foundation, whose goal it is to forward the “interest of Awesomeness” with $1,000 micro grants.

Writer:  Andrew Moore
Source:  Adam Young

Wilkinsburg vacant lots to be transformed with art, design

The community of Wilkinsburg is poised to transform several vacant lots with art and design.

Last fall, the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation (WCDC) worked with seven landscape architecture students from Penn State University to create designs for vacant lots in the borough’s business district.

Designs feature pedestrian tunnels, public art galleries, tree plantings, and a corten steel pergola. Reimagined spaces include Gazebo Park on Wood Street and the Wilkinsburg Train Station.

The WCDC Art and Design Committee recently held a public review of these designs, all of which are available online.

Youth participating in FUSE, an organization that provides artistic and authentic learning experiences for urban youth, also worked with the WCDC and Penn State students.

WCDC’s Jennifer Alfieri says the Penn State students—who traveled to the sites multiple times from State College—were successful in engaging the FUSE youth in the design process, as well as the broader community.

“We really liked that they were getting the community input into these designs,” Alfieri says.

Additionally, Pittsburgh-based mossArchitects is developing a plan for the Penn Avenue Parklet, which includes a performance stage, benches, walkways, and green space. Previous designs for the space weren’t well received by the community, but Alfieri says the current plan has gone through a successful public review process.

The Borough of Wilkinsburg maintains site control of each lot.

Proposals for the Penn Avenue Parklet, which is a high priority, will be presented to funders in the coming months. WCDC would like to see work begin at the site by the end of the year. 

The greening of Wilkinsburg is part of a greater strategic plan to revitalize the Penn Avenue business district.

Writer:  Andrew Moore
Source:  Jennifer Alfieri

Overlook at West End Pointe, new townhomes to offer city's best view

A set of new townhomes in the West End will boast one of the best views in the city, adjacent to the West End Overlook park in the Elliott neighborhood.

A project of Sierra Development, LLC, The Overlook at West End Pointe will consist of four, 3,800 square-foot townhomes.  Each unit will be five stories, including a rooftop observation terrace, and a two-car garage, with four bedrooms and three full and two partial baths. The homes are listed at $890,000.

While the façade will feature Craftsman-style details, the rear will be more contemporary with large glass windows that allow the namesake view to be visible from all floors.

The view is directly at The Point and downtown skyline, offering a panoramic of the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio Rivers. A rear lawn will be created adjacent to the existing overlook park.

According to Howard Slaughter of Sierra Development, the project has recently received all approvals from the City and West End community groups, and construction is scheduled to begin this coming spring.

“Without the community’s support, and without Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith’s support, we would not be able to move forward,” he says.  Slaughter hopes that the development will be an impetus for more opportunities to strengthen the community.

 The City of Pittsburgh is offering at ten year tax abatement to potential home buyers.  Additionally, the developers are offering a $50,000 deduction to a buyer who signs before February 9th.

Offered as a third incentive, a buyer will also have access to an interior designer so that each unit will be custom designed.

Writer:  Andrew Moore
Source:  Dr. Howard Slaughter; Chris Ivory

La Dorita, maker of all-natural dulce de leche, opens co-working commercial kitchen

Josephine Caminos Oría grew up with the inimitable taste of homemade dulce de leche.  Her Argentine grandmother, who often lived with Oría’s family in Pittsburgh, always kept a fresh jar of this sweet spread on hand—for breakfast, dessert, or anytime in between.

Recognizing that all-natural, preservative-free dulce de leche was nearly impossible to find—much less understood—in the region, Oría began producing her own brand for sale at farmers markets in 2009. She used her Grandmother Dorita’s recipe, and named the company after her—La Dorita.

But when it came time to increase production, and expand distribution to a Whole Foods or Giant Eagle, there was just one problem—there were no suitable commercial kitchen spaces for a food startup like La Dorita.  So Oría and her husband, Gaston, have started their own.

The La Dorita Kitchen Share Space has just opened in Sharpsburg, and is a co-working space for food.  The licensed, commercial kitchen is fully equipped—standard and convection ovens, stainless steel work areas, freezers and refrigerators—but aims to offer more than just physical space.

Oría says the plan is to make the kitchen a synergistic food incubator, offering consulting on topics from insurance policies and loans to small business resources and distribution networks.  It's open to groups or individuals, and Oría hopes it can be a hub for artisan foodmakers.

A successful Kickstarter campaign, which ended last fall, raised over $50,000 to help convert the 4,000-square-foot space into the new community kitchen.  Members will also have access to a bar and dining space for special events.

Since this type of facility wasn’t available when La Dorita first began production, the Orías had to convert their home kitchen into a commercial kitchen.  With the co-working kitchen now open in Sharpsburg, the new goal is to convert an adjacent space into the official La Dorita production facility.

“Hopefully by 2014 we will be out of our kitchen and I will have gotten my dining room back,” Oría says.

La Dorita’s line of products—including dulce de leche with dark chocolate and a dulce de leche liqueur—are now available at Giant Eagle Market Districts, McGinnis Sisters stores, and Whole Foods in the mid-Atlantic region.

Writer:  Andrew Moore
Source:  Josephine Caminos Oría

Bakery Square 2.0 will break ground, $100 million mixed-use development

Bakery Square 2.0, a $100 million, mixed-use development adjacent to the former Nabisco factory, is set to break ground.  Developers Walnut Capital and partner RCG Longview Fund have officially closed on the purchase of the former Reizenstein School and surrounding property.

Demolition of the former school has begun, allowing construction to commence on phase 1 of the development. The plan calls for several office buildings along Penn Avenue, with up to 400,000 square-feet of office space; 55 rental townhomes; and the construction of several interior roads and bike paths.

The development site is located across the street from Bakery Square, a $100 million redevelopment of the former Nabisco factory and several new structures. Tenants there include Google, UPMC, the Software Engineering Institute, various retail  and restaurants, and a hotel.

Construction of the first apartment building is expected to begin in March, with an opening date of June 2014.  The five-story building will include 175 apartment units and underground parking.  Rents are expected to range from $900 to $1,000 per month.

Earlier this month Walnut Capital announced it was dropping plans to develop 20 single-family homes in favor of a second apartment building, which will be similar in scope to the first.

A $2 million federal grant, secured by Mayor Ravenstahl and the URA will be used to help prepare infrastructure at the site. 

Writer:  Andrew Moore
Source:  Gregg Perelman

Allentown Pop-Up Library looks to improve life for residents

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has one core mission: to engage the community in literacy and learning.  And while the new Allentown Pop-Up Library doesn’t deviate from those principles, it does seem to go above and beyond the traditional role of a library.

Located at 1206 Arlington Avenue, in the hilltop neighborhood of Allentown, the new pop-up is part of an effort to reach city neighborhoods that fall through the cracks in terms of existing library branches.

Molly Krichten, of CLP, says the goal is to determine what services the neighborhood lacks, and what outlets—creative, informational, or otherwise—residents desire.

“We’ll ascertain what is life in Allentown like, and how can it be better, and how can the library act as a connector between the people and the resources that are available,” Krichten says.

The storefront library is small, just 750 square feet, but it offers numerous services and programming.  In addition to books, the library has an emphasis on technology—including iPads and notebook computers—as well as low-tech favorites like story time readings for kids, and board games.

Krichten says children in the neighborhood were the first to embrace the new library.

“It’s a fun place to be—it’s not a quiet library,” she says.  “It’s a place for exploration and for play and for community building.”

Because the pop-up is designed to learn what residents of Allentown actually want in their community, programming is expected to change.  On Thursday, February 7th, the pop-up will host an open house, from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m.,  where its staff hopes to learn what other services—for adults and youth—residents would like to see.

The library is temporary, and will close in 2014.  But when that happens, Krichten belives the library will have learned enough about Allentown that, through work with other organizations, it can continue to improve life for Allentown residents.

The Allentown Pop-Up is part of the Library in Your Neighborhood Community and Schools (CLP-LYNCS) initiative launched by CLP in 2011.  The first pop-up library was imbedded within the Pittsburgh Public Market from 2011 to 2012.

Writer:  Andrew Moore
Source:  Molly Krichten

Eat + Drink: Nicky's Thai Kitchen, Sinful Sweets, Rose Tea Cafe, and The Grateful Deli

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

Since our last update on Nicky’s Thai Kitchen, one of the Northside’s most popular restaurants, its second location has opened in Downtown Pittsburgh.

The interior is decorated with artwork and statues from Thailand, an atmosphere manager Dave Brunner says is like a Thai art gallery.  The space, originally built for a bank, had most recently housed a pizza shop and art gallery.

Unlike the original Northside location, the downtown restaurant will not be BYOB.  But while the full-service bar is still under development patrons are welcome to bring their own alcohol without any corkage fee.

The new restaurant is open for dinner seven days a week, as well as lunch Monday through Saturday.  Reservations are available for Friday, Saturday and Sunday dinner service.  903 Penn Avenue.  412-471-THAI (8424).

Sinful Sweets Chocolate Company has also recently opened in the space adjacent to Nicky’s, at 901 Penn Avenue.  Owned by chocolatier Christopher George, the shop sells a variety of handmade, gourmet chocolates.  Open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday.  412-235-7865

- Rose Tea Café is opening a second location on Oakland’s Craig Street (414 S. Craig Street).  The original Squirrel Hill location (5874 Forbes Avenue) is well known for its Taiwanese cuisine, considered to be among the best in Pittsburgh.  The new location replaces a former mail store which closed last year.  412-421-2238.

- The Grateful Deli & Catering Company has opened at the intersection of Penn Avenue and Main Street, one block from the Children’s Hospital.  The deli offers hoagies, soup, salad, pizza, and more.  It replaces a portion of the former Sammy's Famous Corned Beef.  4065 Penn Avenue.  412-682-8000.

Writer:  Andrew Moore

Bruno Works makes space in Downtown for tiny little startups

While new high-rises in Downtown Pittsburgh add more office space for bankers, lawyers, and CEO’s, other freelance professionals might still find it hard to acquire affordable desk space.  But Bruno Works, a new coworking space on Liberty Avenue, is hoping to change that.

Eve Picker has opened the new coworking space in her Bruno building at 945 Liberty Avenue, above the ToonSeum.  The facility consists of two floors of loft space, with desks, conference rooms, kitchen, private telephone rooms, and other amenities.

Picker says it’s an ideal space for “tiny little startups.”  There are currently 11 individuals in the shared office, with room for 40.

The reasons for joining a co-working space vary, but likely include the affordability of shared amenities.  And for folks who would otherwise work from home, it can offer a more normalized work routine.

Picker says some professionals are also looking for synergistic connections.  Those types of relationships are already being formed at Bruno Works, since an artist found work with a web designer just desks away.

And Bruno Works has its own synergy with another coworking space, East Liberty’s The Beauty Shoppe. They’re offering a shared flex-pass where one can have access to both facilities.

Other amenities at Bruno Works include a make station, mail boxes, high speed internet, as well as printing, faxing, copying and shredding.  Membership costs range from $300 for a dedicated desk, to just $50 for access to conference rooms.  And for $150 members will have an unassigned desk and 24/7 access to the building.

In addition to office space, Picker is launching the Community Creative School, a social programming series that’s focused on bringing Pittsburgh's design and creative community together.  The events will be free, and hosted at Bruno Works.

Although there are other facilities for startups in Pittsburgh, and coworking spaces like Beauty Shoppe, and Garfield’s Catapult, Bruno Works is the first of its kind in Downtown.

Writer:  Andrew Moore
Source:  Eve Picker
Image Credit:  Bruno Works
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