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Supporting Pittsburgh's homeless in powerful, creative ways

With temperatures dropping to dangerous digits, homeless shelter options are making the news this winter. Pittsburgh students and officials have presented lifesaving ideas, technology and housing. Now, via an Indiegogo.com campaign, any Pittsburgher can take action.
Carnegie Mellon University students recently made headlines for their heated pop-up homeless shelters, which use aerospace technology to convert a portable sleeping bag into a durable winter shelter. Last week, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded a $15.5 million Continuum of Care grant to Allegheny County. The grant will go toward the county's Department of Human Services and its efforts to reduce homelessness.
The Department of Human Services will administer the grant funds to 25 agencies that provide housing and vital services to the homeless. The county department will contribute fiscal and operational support, and monitor service through regular site visits.

But one Pittsburgh resident is working to create a local homeless shelter at the community level via an Indiegogo campaign, The Pittsburgh Home.
“In second grade, my class was asked to draw a picture of how we envisioned our lives when we were older. I drew a picture of a big house with tons of strangers living in it and lots of hearts all over,” Jon Potter says on the Indiegogo page about his inspiration for The Pittsburgh Home. In a follow-up interview, he joked, “I guess it was a second grader’s version of what a co-op would be.”
Potter said he thought he had accomplished this dream with his Lawrenceville hostel, which has hosted 3,000 people in its three years in operation. But, Potter says he realized that he wanted to do more and create a safe and free place for the homeless men and women of Pittsburgh.
Last month, Potter took to Reddit, r/Pittsburgh, and asked the community for support on his journey to opening a homeless shelter. The response was huge. Through the post, he connected with a real estate agent, several contractors, local restaurants and food pantries and a nonprofit that is helping him secure 501c3 status.
“Most of the big things that we needed, Reddit came through with,” Potter said.
He added that The Pittsburgh Home is looking to help people who are actively working toward a goal to better themselves. Through his hostel, Potter said he has encountered many people who have been through a fire or another event that leads them to needing longer term housing than most homeless shelters allow.
He said The Pittsburgh Home would also provide the “most important thing” someone needs to make a change: an address. Potter explained that you can’t vote or apply for a job without an address.
The Pittsburgh Home page on Indiegogo is now active and working toward a $50,000 goal to buy a house. Donors are eligible for prizes including a personal hakiu written by Potter or a paragliding lesson from Potter, who is also a professional paraglider. These prizes were offered in the past, when Potter created an Indiegogo campaign that helped The Bloomfield Sandwich Shop get back on its feet. 
From the hostel to the sandwich shop to the homeless shelter, why does Potter give so much to the city?
His answer was simple, “Pittsburgh is just the friendliest city on the planet.”
Source: Jon Potter, Office of the County Executive, The Pittsburgh Home

Hill District agreement solidifies U.S. Steel headquarters and $20 million investment

The long-awaited redevelopment of the Hill District is moving forward, thanks to cooperation among city officials, neighborhood residents and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
"We are committed [to] implementing a transformational development on the Lower Hill District site that rebuilds the Middle and Upper Hill District,” said Mayor Bill Peduto. “When I took office last January, I committed to having an open-door policy for my administration, and this agreement proves that. Everyone will have the opportunity to have a seat at the table. "
The agreement clarified the Community Collaboration and Implementation Plan for the Lower Hill at the 28-acre site of the former Civic Arena. A new U.S. Steel headquarters will anchor the project.
In addition to U.S. Steel’s headquarters, the agreement also included plans for the Greater Hill District Reinvestment Fund, which is slated to invest more than $20 million in projects throughout the Hill District.
"This renewed agreement is important not only because it allows this project to move forward, but because it also ensures continued benefits for the neighborhood that is most likely to be impacted," said Sen. Wayne D. Fontana (D-Allegheny). "I'm proud that we have continued to work together to find compromise, and that we have a stronger agreement thanks to the work of this dedicated team."
Under the settlement, the Hill Community Development Corp. withdrew its appeal of the Lower Hill Planned Development District approved by the city Planning Commission in December, and agreed to support the U.S. Steel headquarters as a catalyst for the overall development of the Hill District.
City Councilman Daniel Lavelle will introduce an affordable housing task force comprised of city, county, state, federal and community leaders. An executive community created under the CCIP agreement will also appoint an independent consultant to help implement the community collaboration plan and issue progress reports to the committee.
According to the Mayor’s Office, the deal was reached with the assistance of Peduto, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald (D), Congressman Mike Doyle (D), Fontana and state Sen. Jay Costa (D). State Rep. Jake Wheatley (D) and City Councilman Lavelle (D) took leadership roles in helping to preserve the opportunity for the most robust investment ever made by a public-private partnership in the Hill.
Source: The Office of Mayor William Peduto

Construction underway for Strip District apartments as part of $130 million development project

At the site of a former trucking terminal and rail yard in the Strip District comes another real estate development, The Yards at Three Crossings. The Yards will continue the area’s transformation and will have immediate access to the adjacent riverfront trails.

Designed by WTW Architects of Pittsburgh, construction of the Oxford Development Company project is already underway following a December groundbreaking. The 300-unit apartment complex is part of Oxford’s $130 million Three Crossings development.

“The Yards [at] Three Crossings is geared to promote an active lifestyle for its multi-generational residents,” said Richard Bamburak, WTW’s principal in charge. “Amenities include an outdoor swimming pool, hot tub, games area, fire-pit, barbecue grills, a fitness center, ample bicycle parking and extended gathering places, including a private lounge and bar area.”

In addition to trail access and recreational amenities, Bamburak said the building will be pet-friendly. There will be a private dog walking area and a dog wash.
Bamburak said The Yards is taking the idea of transportation, rooted in the former truck and rail site, and reimagining it for a new generation with an approach geared toward biking and walking.

The proximity to Lawrenceville and Downtown makes the Strip an attractive location for empty nesters and young professionals seeking city life, Bamburak said. He added that the flat terrain to get to the entertainment on Butler Street or in the Cultural District makes the neighborhood attractive to those who want to walk or bike from a central location.

Bamburak explained that this complex is just part of Oxford’s development in the Strip. According to Oxford’s website, Three Crossings is an 11-acre, mixed-use development along Smallman and Railroad streets, bound by 25th and 29th streets. The Three Crossings project is developing offices, residential properties and a parking structure, The Hub, which will also feature bicycle and recreational amenities, possibly including bike repair and kayak rental. Oxford calls this multi-building project “urban flex office space,” designed for the efficiency of the next-generation worker.

Rycon Construction, the general contractor for The Yards, is involved in this reinvestment of the area, Bamburak said. He explained that the company is relocating from its old offices, also in the Strip, into a bigger space within Three Crossings.

“The Strip District is a unique neighborhood; it is one of those places in Pittsburgh that has no equal. Our desire is to parlay the authenticity and energy that already exists in the Strip into a revitalized waterfront neighborhood,” said Steve Guy, president and chief executive officer of Oxford Development Company. “This project encourages sustainable living and fosters active lifestyles that will reknit the frayed fabric of the neighborhood into a community that provides new opportunities for living, working and everything else.”

Completion of the LEED-rated apartment complex at 2645 Railroad St. is expected by spring 2016.
Source: Richard Bamburak, WTW, www.oxforddevelopment.com

Gaucho Parrilla Argentina receives big Yelp win; plans expansion

Last week, Yelp ranked Strip District restaurant Gaucho Parrilla Argentina No. 7 on its Top 100 Places to Eat in the United States for 2015. Gaucho was the only East Coast eatery listed in the top ten.
“It’s just awesome news. [It’s] great for us, great for our neighborhood and great for the city,” said Gaucho chef and proprietor Anthony Falcon. 
Rachel Carlson, Yelp Pittsburgh community director, explained that the bar for good food in Pittsburgh has been raised. And while taste and quality are part of the equation behind a positive Yelp review, Carlson said Yelpers also make note of good customer service and atmosphere. She noted that users recognize these qualities at Gaucho.
“They have 298 reviews and a perfect five-star rating. And that’s unheard of.” Carlson said about Gaucho’s online popularity. 

Falcon said regular customers and new faces have been commenting on the Yelp shoutout. The win comes on the heels of some other news for Gaucho.
The restaurant at 1607 Penn Avenue will be expanding into the building next door. Falcon said the project, which has been in the works for one year, finally has the green light from the city. He said construction is expected to begin as early as next week and added that he hopes it is completed in three or four months for summer business.
“The new space will be a lot more comfortable for our customers,” Falcon said. Currently, Gaucho only has limited stool seating. But, the expansion will bring additional stools, tables and chairs to accommodate 40 people. He added that there are tentative plans for a bar in the future. “We really want to focus on local craft beers and South American, Argentine-inspired wine.”
He said the current Gaucho space will be converted into a large kitchen and the space next door will serve as the dining area. In addition to physical renovations, Falcon said the menu will also add items, like more vegetable dishes, paella, coffee and baked goods. But don’t worry, the mouthwatering steaks, five-hour braised rosemary beef sandwich and other customer favorites will all still be there.
Falcon said he wanted to give “a massive, huge, heartfelt thank you” to the community and out-of-town diners who supported Gaucho on Yelp. He said these positive reviews and local support are what made the restaurant No. 7 in the country.
Source: Anthony Falcon

Downtown Wilkinsburg awarded Main Street designation

Since 2008, the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation has been working toward a Main Street designation through the Pennsylvania Department of Economic and Community Development and Pennsylvania Downtown Center’s Main Street Program. Last week, Wilkinsburg was accepted into the prestigious program.
Since the WCDC’s office officially opened in 2010, 33 business district properties have sold, 10 vacant storefronts have been filled and 22 vacant properties have become viable homes or commercial properties through the Vacant Property Recovery Program.
The WCDC has worked to clean up and improve Wilkinsburg’s streetscapes and image by installing banners and litter receptacles, refurbishing lampposts and planting more than 100 trees and plants throughout the business district.
“We are thrilled to have been selected for Main Street designation by the PA Department of Community and Economic Development and the PA Downtown Center," said WCDC Executive Director Tracey Evans. "The WCDC was formed in 2008 to revitalize our business district and we have been following the Main Street Approach from the beginningThanks to the dedication and commitment of our residents, business owners, community stakeholders and government officials, the Wilkinsburg Business District has made tremendous progress.” 
According to the WCDC, Wilkinsburg has all of the ingredients for a successful Main Street Program: a traditional business district, a core of strong businesses, and historic building stock. Wilkinsburg’s strategic location along Penn Avenue and the East Busway makes the borough the next location for economic and transit-oriented development along the Penn Avenue Corridor, Evans explained.
Acceptance into the Main Street Program will provide Wilkinsburg with more financial and technical resources. Wilkinsburg businesses located within the designated downtown area will be eligible to apply for Enterprise Zone Tax Credits through the Neighborhood Assistance Program; Wilkinsburg will be eligible to apply for and receive façade grants and other funding; and Wilkinsburg stakeholders will be able to network and collaborate with other Pennsylvania Regional Main Street grantees, among other benefits.
Through the state’s Neighborhood Partnership Program, the WCDC has already hired a full-time Economic Development Program Coordinator to oversee the Main Street Program and attend training sessions in Harrisburg to ensure its success.
“This award is an excellent beginning to 2015; we have a number of exciting projects including restoration of the Wilkinsburg Train Station, plans for the former Penn-Lincoln Hotel site and campaigns to promote and support our businesses. We are grateful for the opportunities and resources that this designation brings to our community, which will improve the quality of life for those who live and work in Wilkinsburg,” Evans said.

Evans added that improving the historic Wilkinsburg Train Station is top priority in 2015. The train station is located along the Busway and would ideally be utilized as a business district bus station -- between the Wilkinsburg and Hamnett stops -- not a train stop. Evans said 27,000 cars drive on Penn Avenue daily; the redevelopment of the train station would be a valuable resource as well as a win for historic preservation.
She said she hopes to build on the trend of new food businesses and restaurants in downtown Wilkinsburg, which is a dry community. A possible liquor license referendum in the future could bolster restaurant business, Evans said.
Source: WCDC, Tracey Evans, Marlee Gallagher

34th & Carson office space offers new construction on a smaller scale

Want to create a brand-new office space with views of the Monongahela River and the Steelers? Avison Young, a Toronto-headquartered commercial real estate services firm, may have an opportunity for you on the South Side.
Avison Young’s Pittsburgh office announced earlier this week that it has been named the exclusive leasing agent for the 34th & Carson office development. Located at 34th and East Carson streets, the site overlooks the University of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Steelers football teams’ practice fields.
“If you happen to be a football fanatic, you can stand out on the balcony and watch them practice,” joked David Auel, Avison Young vice-president in the Pittsburgh office.
Leasing efforts for 34th & Carson are assigned to Auel and Ed Sauer, an Avison Young associate.
Currently under construction, the 31,000-square-foot, four-story office building will be the second Carson Street project from FirstSite Development, LLC. The firm previously developed 3447 East Carson Street, home to Matcon Diamond and Propel Charter Schools.
Auel believes that 34th & Carson will be well-received in the current market. He said Avison Young estimates that rates will be between $21 and $24 per square foot, with full-service leasing, including utilities.
“Newly constructed office space within and around Pittsburgh continues to enjoy a high level of occupancy,” Auel said. “Given the convenient location and access near the Hot Metal Bridge, coupled with free on-site parking, we believe that we will see strong demand from users wanting proximity to Downtown and university areas. Efficient floor plans on a smaller scale, subdividable down to 2,200 square foot, allow us to service a wide variety of business needs. The east elevation will have balconies overlooking the Monongahela River, Three Rivers Heritage Trail and the practice fields used by both Pitt and the Steelers.”
Auel added that the lot will be able to accommodate about 80 cars. He said the location is also attractive as it circumvents Downtown traffic and provides an opportunity for small businesses to get into new office space in the South Side.
“I think that we are offering a very unique opportunity,” Auel said. He explained that many new South Side buildings are occupied by larger companies like UPMC and American Eagle Outfitters. “So, this is a situation for someone who has a typical small business office [to get into] new construction.”
Construction is expected to be completed fall 2015, with occupancy available to tenants at the same time.
Source: David Auel, Avison Young

CMU alumni launch Greek yogurt brand Naturi in Pittsburgh

Greek yogurt is everywhere these days. But some companies offering Greek-style yogurt often sneak in a lot of hidden sugar and other additives. Brand-new Pittsburgh company Naturi Organics promises that its Greek yogurt is made naturally with local and organic ingredients. 
Naturi is the brainchild of Aditya Dhere, Anes Dracic and Jennifer Mrzlack, graduates of the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University. For 2014 grads Dhere and Dracic, Naturi started as a final graduate school project. Mrzlack, a 2010 Tepper alumna, brought her food experience -- after three years at Heinz -- to the team in July.

Mrzlack said Dhere, an American-born Indian, and Dracic, a Bosnian refugee who moved to the United States as a child, both had mothers who made yogurt at home. She added that Dracic’s family had a farm in Bosnia and that his mother sold yogurt from a cart.
Mrzlack also made yogurt and applesauce for her young sons, which sparked her passion for natural, healthy ingredients.
On Jan. 12, Naturi hit the shelves at 48 local businesses with more retailers in the works. Distributors are Paragon, Frankferd Farms and Clarion River Organics.
In addition to serving both the Google and American Eagle Outfitters campuses, Naturi customers include the Fairmont Hotel, Hotel Monaco, Marty’s Market, the East End Food Co-op, McGinnis Sisters, Espresso A Mano, 21st Street Coffee and Tea, Coffee Tree Roasters, the Duquesne Club, Feast on Brilliant, Red Oak Café, DJ Butcher Block, Tula Organic Salon and Spa, Today’s Market, Sewickley Confectionary -- which provides home delivery -- and more. Strip District hot spots Bar Marco and Wigle Whiskey will offer Naturi-made items.
“I cant say it enough,” Mrzlack began, “I [really] want to thank the Pittsburgh community … Everyone has been so supportive.”
Naturi, Mrzlack explained, is committed to flavorful Greek-style yogurt with clean, organic ingredients and low sugar. The yogurt is produced at Sunrise Family Farms, an organic farm in upstate New York.
While Naturi is committed to keeping a small carbon footprint (many ingredients are sourced within three miles of Sunrise farms), the brand also packs flavors with a “worldly” punch.
The initial flavors include Pure (plain), Seedless Raspberry, Coffee + Chicory and Indonesian Vanilla + Saigon Cinnamon. These natural flavors need little added sugar, Mrzlack explained. She said raspberry is naturally sweetened with real fruit, the chicory gives the coffee yogurt a chocolate feel and vanilla and cinnamon are innately rich in flavor.
Naturi operates out of the Birchmere Ventures offices in the Strip District above 21st Street Coffee. On Saturday, the new company is getting to know its Strip District neighbors. From noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Naturi will be at the Organically Social booth in the Pittsburgh Public Market doing a public meet-and-greet event.
Source: Jennifer Mrzlack, www.naturi.com

Local architecture firm honored for design of sustainable Haitian community center

Mike Gwin, architect and principal at Strip District architectural firm Rothschild Doyno Collaborative, led a design project to build a community center in Haiti following the devastating 2010 earthquake.
The Sant Lespwa Center of Hope, in Hinche, Haiti, recently won Rothschild Doyno an American Institute of Architects’ national honor award for buildings.
”Last Friday, the 2015 AIA National Architecture Honor Awards were announced and the Center of Hope project in Haiti that we designed with World Vision was selected,” Gwin said in an email to Pop City. “This is the first time since 1999 that a Pittsburgh office has won a national AIA honor award for architecture on their own. It is a rare honor for our local art and design community.”
World Vision is an international resource organization that previously worked with the local architecture firm to build a distribution center in Sewickley. For the Sant Lespwa Center, the organization envisioned a community center that would provide educational resources and job training to aid the city’s economy.
Today, the 5,000-square-foot facility does just that. Gwin said the center offers classes teaching vocational skills, library resources with books and Internet access and recreation with a soccer field and music and art resources.
When working on an international project, Gwin said it's essential to visit in order to implement local nuances into design. He said his trip to Haiti helped the building come together in a way that was natural to the community.
The center was built around a tree grove, which was the natural gathering space for the community of 50,000. Gwin said they also executed design that reflected local heritage. The area is known for crafting baskets, hats and other goods from palm thatch. Local crafters created palm thatch awnings and other items for the building.
Gwin said more than 100 locals assisted in the construction. It instilled a sense of “shared ownership,” he said.
The Sant Lespwa Center of Hope is off the grid, Gwin explained, which means that there are no utility connections for water, electricity or sewage. “So, the building had to be self-sufficient,” he said.
Rothschild Doyno designed a butterfly roof to collect rainwater through chains into an underground cistern. He said the underground tank had enough room to provide for a year’s supply of water. Overflow was designed to navigate into planter areas.
The solar-powered building also supplies power to batteries in the building, which are used to purify water. Before this system, Gwin said the people of Hinche would have to walk miles to get water.
The building also does not have mechanical utility connections, so there is no heating and cooling. The shape of the roof works to draw breeze into the building, as does the site’s shady location among the grove.
Rothschild Doyno was among 11 winners out of 300 applicants for the competitive AIA award. Bohlin Cywinski Jackson was the last Pittsburgh firm to win in 1999 for the Robert L. Pregar Intelligent Workplace at Carnegie Mellon University.
“It’s a very rare award to receive … So, you don’t ever think that you’re going to,” Gwin joked. He then added, “It’s great to have our local [design] scene reach that national stage.”
Source: Mike Gwin, Rothschild Doyno Collaborative

Big Day transforms to suit developing Upper Strip District

Driving down Penn Avenue in the Strip District, one couldn’t miss Big Day Wedding and Event Center at 26th Street. The white building was designed to look like a tiered wedding cake -- topped with life-sized bride and groom statues.
Building and business owner Sal Richetti has transformed the space into 26th Street Market and Café, currently in its soft opening with a grand opening planned in March. Out with the statuesque couple, and in with orange and green trim.
'The wedding business is more Internet-driven now,' Richetti said about his decision to transform the space. Big Day Entertainmnet, Video and Photography still operates online and on the second floor of the building at 2549 Penn Ave., and Celebrity Bridal Boutique is open by appointment on the first floor.
Richetti said 26th Street will fill a niche in the developing Upper Strip District. He said the current model is Starbucks meets Sheetz, without the gas. The café currently offers a self-serve coffee bar, Nicholas Coffee Co. products, lunch options like soups, salads and sandwiches, convenience goods from candy and snacks to cigarettes, co-working meeting spaces, a cozy café area and free wi-fi. The two meeting rooms, which can host six and 10 people, are currently available by appointment at (412) 566-2889.
After the grand opening in March, the space will provide grab-and-go lunches, an array of hot sandwiches like paninis and hoagies, smoothies, breakfast and specialty coffee drinks from espresso to lattes to iced coffee.  The spring will also bring outdoor seating and an al fresco atmosphere as the café features a garage door, which can open up the café on sunny days.
As more condominiums open at this end of the neighborhood, the space fits several needs in the growing neighborhood including convenience store products and business space, according to Vicki McGregor, manager of 26th Street Market and Cafe and Richetti's sister.
McGregor said residents need more eateries and businesses to provide convenience goods.
Richetti, who has owned the 26th and Penn building for more than a decade, said increased neighborhood foot traffic influenced the building’s renovation.
“I bought this building in 2001," Richetti said. "[Today,] I just see so much more walk-by traffic." 
Both Richetti and McGregor commented on the Strip’s expansion toward Lawrenceville.
“[The Strip] is expanding toward Lawrenceville and Lawrenceville is expanding down [toward the Strip],” McGregor said, as she gestured with her two hands, one representing each neighborhood, an eventual meeting.

Source: Sal Richetti and Vicki McGregor

PHDA, Inc. receives subsidies grant for first-time homebuyers

First-time home buyers with low to moderate incomes can apply for help with down payments and closing costs, thanks to a grant program available from the Pittsburgh Housing Development Association, Inc.

PHDA, Inc. recently secured funding from the Wells Fargo Housing Foundation to support the First-Time Home Buyers Subsidy Grant Program for an additional year. Launched in 2014, the program assists eligible, first-time home buyers with down payments and/or closing costs.
The grant will be dispersed through an application process. To be eligible, applicants must have an assigned contract on a specific property, be first-time homebuyers, meet income eligibility guidelines and complete a certified Home Counseling Program.
“The grant is available to any qualified and eligible first-time homebuyer,” said Greg Whitted, PHDA, Inc. executive director and co-founder, about the Wilkinsburg-focused organization. PHDA, Inc. was formed in 1982 with a mission to assist low to moderate income first-time home buyers with educational workshops and resources to achieve their dream of homeownership. 
Whitted said the grant can be used on any Pittsburgh home, but added that Wilkinsburg has a lot of home ownership opportunities.
“[Wilkinsburg] is an up-and-coming community,” he said. “The housing stock is strong there.”
Funding for the grant program was provided in part by a grant from the national Wells Fargo Housing Foundation, which provides funding to assist nonprofit community organizations in achieving and sustaining their missions through strategic leadership in servicing low-wealth communities.
Applications are currently available.  Interested applicants should email info@phdainc.org or call (412) 242-2700 for additional information and an application.
Source: Greg Whitted, PHDA, Inc.

Convenience store opens in Public Market for Strip residents and shoppers

Living in the Strip District, one has access to some of the finest local and international goods, from Penn Mac cheese to Mon Aimee Chocolate to Wigle Whiskey. The list could go on and on.

But despite the abundance of little luxuries and ethnic varieties, neighborhood residents lacked access to things like toilet paper and paper towels — until Mike Bregman opened a new kind of convenience store for Strip dwellers in the Pittsburgh Public Market.
Within the microcosm of the Pittsburgh Public Market, patrons peruse handmade goods, fill growlers of East End brew and grab goodies at Eliza’s Oven. And now, among the local and organic selections, the Public Market offers Bregman’s Bull Dawg’s mini mart for Strip District shoppers.
The mini mart offers all-natural hot dogs for $2, Coke products, Gatorade, Red Bull, toiletries and other conveniences.

Before opening the Public Market shop, Bregman said he walked from 25th Street to 11th Street and noticed there wasn’t a convenience store selling things like chips, soda or toilet paper for Strip neighbors.
“In a year from now, there’s going to be more than 3,000 people living in these condos,” said Bregman, a University of Georgia alum with the nickname Bulldog. Bregman cited the current condominiums under construction in the neighborhood and other recent development in the Strip.
The shop's hot dogs are locally sourced and handmade at DJ’s Butcher Block in Bloomfield, Bregman said.
“I’d like to feed the people for lunch and I’d like the residents to know about the toiletries,” Bregman said about his business within the Public Market.
He added that he would love feedback from Strip District residents about the kinds of soap, hygiene products and toiletries they would like to see in his shop -- for their convenience.
Source: Mike Bregman

Hotel Monaco's The Commoner to open Downtown with a grab-and-go café

For a quick bite or a full-on dining experience, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants offers pub fare with a Pittsburgh twist for hungry downtown diners.
Kimpton will open its first Pittsburgh restaurant, The Commoner, adjacent to the new Hotel Monaco Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Jan. 20. The 120-seat restaurant will feature American classics with a modern flair, a wood-burning oven and an extensive craft beer list.
In a rush? Try The Commoner’s grab-and-go café The Commoner Corner. This sidewalk café and smoked meat carvery will serve breakfast and lunch and features a large service window on Strawberry Way for customers on the go.
"We've been working hard to perfect our menu and develop relationships with local farmers to highlight the best of the Allegheny region," said Executive Chef Dennis Marron. "The Pittsburgh dining scene is really making a name for itself, and I'm excited to bring my take on European pub fare and American classics to the table. The menu and vibe we've created here is going to be a hit with everyone -- from downtown professionals to sports fans and theater-goers to hotel guests."
Chef Marron's menus will offer American tavern classics with Old World influences and regional produce. The onion soup burger, steak and ale pie (braised with local East End Brown Ale) and brick chicken are just a few examples where pub style meets Pittsburgh flavor. Pennsylvania-grown and seasonal products, like PA Noble cave-aged cheddar, Castle Valley Mills cornmeal, Starr Valley Farms beef and Elysian Fields lamb, will be highlights in many dishes, like the cheddar board, PA burger and braised lamb shank.
“We’re a modern American tavern located in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh,” said The Commoner General Manager Matthew Rafferty. He added that the restaurant will focus on drafts and “slow-roasted and braised meats.”
The dinner menu will prominently feature an array of dishes from the kitchen's central wood-burning oven. With wood-fired dishes ranging from appetizers to main courses, diners will be able to choose from broccoli-cheddar flatbread to herb-rubbed bone marrow to charred cauliflower with sage-walnut pesto, among other smoky, rustic favorites.
Breakfast at The Commoner will have something for everyone, including lighter options like baked egg whites with kale, oven-dried tomatoes and zucchini, and heartier offerings like Irish soda bread, French toast with Chantilly cream and whiskey barrel-aged maple syrup.
At the bar, lead bartender Joshua Holliday will oversee a robust cocktail and spirits menu and a locally driven craft beer list anchored by 12 draft lines and 50 bottles and cans, including local selections like Church Brew Works' Thunderhop Extreme Double IPA and Voodoo Brewing Company's KillaPilz.
The wine list will feature six wines on tap, guided by Kimpton’s Master Sommelier Emily Wines. Holliday has worked closely with Chef Marron and Rafferty to create inventive cocktails, including a barrel-aged negroni and an old-fashioned, with house-made syrup and BBQ bitters.
The Commoner Corner’s menu will feature items that are unfussy and ideal for diners on the go. Breakfast will include a range of freshly baked pastries, croissant sandwiches, fresh-pressed juices and smoothies and artisanal coffee beverages. Lunch will feature hot sandwiches with house-smoked, hand-carved beef, turkey and portabella mushrooms and a variety of fixings. Save time and room for milkshakes and floats.
The Commoner, at 458 Strawberry Way, will be open seven days a week for breakfast and dinner starting January 20. The restaurant begins lunch service Feb. 3 and kicks off its Saturday and Sunday brunch on Feb. 21. The Commoner Corner will serve weekday breakfast and lunch beginning Jan. 20.
Full menus and information will be available at www.thecommonerpgh.com.
Source: Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, Justin Rude, Matthew Rafferty

Pop-up chocolate shop keeps mouths watering in Shadyside

Just before Christmas, Chocolate! featuring Jacques Torres Chocolate, a pop-up shop in Shadyside, opened its doors boasting holiday goodies. But this pop-up hasn't disappeared into the night. Chocolate! featuring Jacques Torres Chocolate will continue to see Pittsburgh through all the big chocolate holidays: Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter.
The seasonal chocolate emporium was launched by Pittsburgh native Lissa Guttman, who recently moved back to Pittsburgh after a 10-year stint in New York City. While there, she worked with award-winning pastry chef and Food Network personality Jacques Torres to launch a line of highly successful chocolate boutiques in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
“I loved the food scene in New York, but I missed the soulfulness of Pittsburgh,” Guttman said. “So, I decided to fuse the two. I also love the idea of creating whimsical shopping experiences -- unexpected retail destinations that last for a season or two, but create fun moments and leave customers craving the next incarnation.”
Guttman said she wanted to bring her love for chocolate and Jacques Torres quality products back to her hometown. She added that Torres was excited to expand his brand beyond New York -- Pittsburgh is the first city outside New York to carry the line. Guttman said Pittsburgh has proven to be a great market for premium goods.
The store’s mouth-watering offerings range from holiday favorites to exotic creations like chipotle-infused “wicked hot chocolate.” Guttman said products also range from kid-friendly to adult-friendly, including chocolate-covered cereals and nuts to chocolate ginger.
“Everything is chocolate,” she said of the "here today, gone tomorrow" shop featuring both large edible gifts and snacks.
Guttman added that the pop-up model was used at all eight of Torres’ New York chocolate stores. She said her seasonal shop could grow into something more.
“I could see myself doing a lot more of these in various neighborhoods or on trucks,” Guttman said, adding that, for the time being, she is focused on getting to know Shadyside.
Chocolate! featuring Jacques Torres Chocolate will remain open through Easter at 813 Copeland Way.
Source: Lissa Guttman

Frick Park's "Stink Creek" cleanup is national model for waterway restoration

A study by a University of Pittsburgh hydrologist shows that a local project is one of the largest urban-stream restorations in the United States and has led to the recovery of fish and, more importantly, a groundswell of local support.
Pittsburgh’s Frick Park is home to Nine Mile Run, a stream formerly known as "Stink Creek." From 2003 to 2006, the City of Pittsburgh and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers poured $7.7 million into restoring 2.2 miles of the stream and tributaries into waterways approximating what they were prior to urban development. The project remains one of the largest urban-stream restorations undertaken in the United States.

Dan Bain, Pitt assistant professor of hydrology and metal biogeochemistry in the Department of Geology and Planetary Science within the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, says the project has made a difference and sets an example for other cities to follow. The evidence is tallied in Bain’s paper, "Characterizing a Major Urban Stream Restoration Project: Nine Mile Run," published last month in the Journal of the American Water Resources Association.

Nine Mile Run, which is part of a watershed that drains 6.5 square miles of Wilkinsburg, Edgewood, Swissvale, Forest Hills, Squirrel Hill and Point Breeze, had been abused by urbanization and industrialization. Toxins leached into the creek from a slag heap left over from the steelmaking process, sewer lines discharged into the water and so much of the waterway had been buried in culverts or diverted from its natural path that Nine Mile Run had become toxic.
The three-year restoration project involved rerouting the creek to a natural pathway, reestablishing flora, creating areas to catch floodwater and building natural "slash piles" and "snags" from cut-down trees to create bird and animal habitats. It also involved infrastructure interventions: adding rain barrels to residents' homes, preventing some storm water from overwhelming the stream and fixing parts of the underlying sewers.
Some of the impediments remain, but neighbors and Frick Park users have been motivated to continue the work. This support has been imperative to restoration.
“What we found is that, properly done, urban-stream restoration can create a citizen involvement in the process of appropriately managing urban streams and give us a greater opportunity to understand how restorations work in an urban system, particularly when compared with our ability to understand restoration success in less populated areas,” Bain said.

In his paper, Bain reports that fish populations are improving. However, the human response to this restoration has been vigorous -- the rise in the number of volunteer hours as well as the number of rain barrels installed at private residences appears to be associated with the restoration of the stream.
Those inspired by the improving health of the stream have enlisted as volunteer Urban EcoStewards with the Nine Mile Run Watershed Association, a nonprofit that advocates for and monitors the area. These EcoStewards visit an assigned plot on a regular basis to remove invasive species, plant native flora, clean up trash and install rain barrels on their property to reduce runoff and slow erosion.
Source: University of Pittsburgh

Council member introduces sidewalk reimbursement plan

Pittsburgh City Council Member Darlene M. Harris (D-District 1) introduced legislation last week that could be a step toward a more pedestrian-friendly Pittsburgh.
The legislation would update the city’s policy for paying out city sidewalk damages caused by trees. The city currently reimburses city property owners $4.00 per square foot. Harris’ legislation would increase that amount to $8.00 per square foot.
According to a release from Harris’ office, the city has not increased reimbursement for tree root damage for at least 20 years.
“No one can recall exactly when that amount ($4.00 a square foot) had been set," Harris said. "With inflation, that original value has been cut in half. It is only fair that that there is a readjustment. It might also motivate people to make needed sidewalk repairs.”
The new legislation also authorizes the city solicitor to recalculate the reimbursement amount every four years based upon the consumer price index.
The legislation states: “Beginning on January 1, 2015, the City Solicitor shall, every four years, adjust the amount of compensation provided for sidewalk damage claims based upon the United States Department of Labor’s, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Consumer Price Index for Pittsburgh. The percentage of increase/decrease in the Pittsburgh CPI shall be the percent of the increase/decrease in compensation provided.”
The city solicitor would provide notice to city council of any adjustment made to the amount provided for sidewalk damage claims.
“That would keep the Council from having to revisit this matter every few years or so," Harris said. "It is good housekeeping. Right now, the city is only covering 20% of the replacement. This legislation would make it 40% reimbursement. That’s about what it was when the $4 number was set decades ago.”

At $20 per square foot, local contractors estimate that it costs about $500 to replace one five-square-foot sidewalk slab, according to Harris. An increase in the Law Department’s 2015 judgment account would be sufficient to absorb this cost.
Source: Office of Pittsburgh City Council Member Darlene M. Harris
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