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Celebrate Bike to Work Day on Friday with Bike PGH

This Friday, May 15, is National Bike to Work Day and Bike PGH is helping hundreds of Pittsburgh bike commuters celebrate.
 
Ngani Ndimbie, Bike PGH communications manager, said Bike PGH is setting up five Commuter Cafés where participating Bike to Work cyclists can grab free breakfast and coffee. Cafés will be located in Oakland, Downtown, Friendship, North Side and South Side on Friday from 7 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.
 
Ndimbie called these pop-up cafés a fun way to meet and mingle with other bike commuters and added that this is Bike PGH’s 14th year hosting a Bike to Work Day event. Last year, 600 to 700 bike commuters popped into the cafés and more than 1,000 people are expected to bike to work on May 15, according to Ndimbie.
 
“We’ve been really excited to see this celebration grow,” she said. Ndimbie added that according to recent U.S Census Bureau figures, Pittsburgh has seen a 408 percent increase in the number of people who bike to work since 2000.  
 
Most Bike PGH members participating in the event will receive one of 350 swag bags distributed from the Commuter Cafés, made by the local cyclewear company Aero Tech Designs. But, 15 bags will include Golden Tickets that garner special prizes, like a Brooks bike saddle.
 
In addition to camaraderie and prizes, Ndimbie said the event hopes to expose people to bike commuting. In order to get more people peddling, Bike PGH is coordinating bike trains where newer riders can meet with a group in their neighborhood to ride to the nearest Commuter Café and on to work. The Bike PGH website explains, “Think of Bike Trains as carpools for people on bikes, but more fun.”
 
Ndimbie said volunteer conductors will lead the trains so new riders can learn from more experienced commuters, adding, “[It’s a] great day to get hooked on biking to work.”
 
Source: Ngani Ndimbie, Bike PGH
 
 

Annual Carpenters Design-Build Competition gives back to Pittsburgh Botanic Garden

Young professionals from the construction industry get hands-on experience -- literally -- while giving back to the community at the upcoming Carpenters Design-Build Competition & Open House.
 
The Carpenters Union and the Master Builders’ Association will host the annual event from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday, May 8, at the Carpenters Training Center in Collier Township. After more than a decade, this event continues to serve as a prestigious opportunity to market young professionals as they participate in a charitable design challenge. This year, contestants will build autism-friendly play stations that will be donated to the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden.
 
Jon O'Brien, Master Builders' Association of Western PA director of industry relations, explained that fourth-year apprentice carpenters are randomly paired with area architects to complete the design challenge. These teams of architects, engineers and carpenters have two weeks to come up with a design.
 
The play stations are interactive booths with a botanical flair. They are also autism-friendly as the stations are intended to educate children about the different senses.  The six-foot stations will feature designs and activities mirroring touch, sound, smell, taste and sight.
 
“The young creative minds … the stuff they come up with is amazing,” O’Brien said about the young carpenters.
 
Tours of the Carpenters Training Center will be available throughout the day. Carpenter representatives will guide visitors through the center so that guests can get a better understanding of the skilled workforce that is relied upon to build our region. Construction industry vendors will exhibit their products and services during the day.
 
Many high school students attend the event to learn about carpenters programs and other opportunities in construction and architecture. O’Brien said the event shows students “this is an option for their future.”
 
The event takes place at the Carpenters Training Center, 652 Ridge Road, Collier Township, with public hours from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. 
 
 
Source: Jon O'Brien, Master Builders' Association of Western PA

Pageboy Salon & Boutique celebrates five years and new products

After five years of pairing Pittsburghers with fresh cuts and vintage styles, Pageboy Salon & Boutique is undergoing a makeover of its own.
 
Pageboy invites guests to join in celebrating its fifth anniversary with a public reception featuring music and refreshments from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday, March 27.
 
In addition to celebrating this sapphire anniversary, Pageboy is growing its focus on personal grooming products for women and men.
 
The salon and shop on Butler Street in Lower Lawrenceville has come a long way since 2010. Pageboy offered a two-for-one experience for clients: vintage and upcycled fashion up front and a full-service hair salon in the back. It wasn’t long before proprietor Dana Bannon brought on additional stylists and expanded her one-chair salon. Now, on Pageboy’s anniversary, Bannon has decided to make big changes once again.
 
Bannon reflected on changes in the neighborhood as well, citing fewer destination stores in the neighborhood in 2010, and noting an expansion of boutiques and restaurants toward Upper Lawrenceville.
 
Though the community is still changing, Bannon said she thinks there will always be camaraderie among business owners. As a community, Lawrenceville shops are always happy to work together on events, and as independent small businesses, owners rely on one another, Bannon said.
 
“I think it’s a really great place to have a small business,” she said.
 
Bannon said she believes that Lawrenceville will remain a neighborhood of small and independent businesses because entrepreneurs and community organizations are conscious about what the neighborhood wants. As long as business owners keep listening, she said, Lawrenceville will stay the same neighborhood that Pittsburgh knows and loves. 
 
The “new” beauty-focused shop will feature a collection of products sourced from small, independent companies with an emphasis on small-batch, organic and cruelty-free items.
 
“We are very salon-oriented, but I like the lifestyle aspect of having retail,” Bannon said, adding that the shop no longer carries apparel, though it will still feature beauty-related products and jewelry.  “[We are] still a lifestyle store, but something that marries a little more [of] what we’re doing in the store.”
 
Cosmetics, perfumes, luxury bath and body and men’s grooming products and tools will be just a few of the many things you’ll soon find at Pageboy, in addition to the shop's longstanding tradition of showcasing jewelry and accessories from local and independent jewelry designers.
 
The new products will be available beginning Wednesday, March 25. 
 
Source: Pageboy Salon & Boutique, Dana Bannon

Fairmont Pittsburgh Canine Ambassador to host charitable birthday bash

On Wednesday, March 25, the Fairmont Pittsburgh is going to the dogs.
 
The Downtown hotel will host a birthday “yappy hour” for Edie, its resident canine ambassador, from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. on March 25 in the lobby. Edie is a boxer and Labrador retriever mix who works at the hotel greeting visitors and escorting guests on walks.
 
Edie was originally adopted by Circle Tail, an organization that trains service animals. But, after completing training with the organization, she was too friendly for service. So, Edie was adopted by the Fairmont where her sunny disposition proved better suited to the hospitality industry.
 
“Her main job is really to welcome our guests and make them feel at home,” said Julie Abramovic, public relations manager at Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, noting that Edie’s dog bed and toys are right in the lobby when guests arrive. Abramovic added about Edie’s ambassadorship, “She’s out in the community attending different events … animal adoption is a cause that’s near and dear to her heart.”
 
The party is open to the public, and friendly dogs and humans are welcome to attend. The birthday party will benefit Animal Friends, a nonprofit companion animal resource center in Ohio Township.
 
Adoptable dogs from Animal Friends will be on site. Instead of presents, guests are asked to bring a donation for the organization. Grain-free treats, new toys, individually wrapped bones or treats, and dental hygiene and grooming items for dogs, cats and rabbits are needed. Cash donations are also welcome: A $25 donation will provide basic care for one animal for one day; $50 will fund a spay/neuter; $75 will fund one dog adoption; and $100 will provide one day of pet therapy visits at Animal Friends.
 
Fairmont Pittsburgh pastry chef James Wroblewski will prepare dog-friendly birthday cake for Edie and her canine friends.
 
Refreshments will also be available for human party-goers including a specialty “Ain’t Nothing But a Hound Dog” cocktail, which --- as a nod to both dogs and the King -- is a peanut butter banana Captain Morgan drink with a candied bacon garnish. 
 
Canine guests can expect favors, party hats and giveaways. Abramovic said The Dog Stop donated a basket and guests can also win a night at the hotel. While she said she knows some aspects of the event are silly, Abramovic said the important thing is that the party puts the spotlight on Animal Friends.
 
Edie’s fifth birthday also marks the fifth anniversary of the Fairmont Pittsburgh. Abramovic noted Downtown development around the hotel in the past five years, like the new PNC headquarters coming to the area and an increase of restaurants and activity in Market Square. 
 
“There’s just more for guests to do,” she said. 
 
Fairmont Pittsburgh is located at 510 Market St., Downtown.
 
 
Source: Julie Abramovic, Fairmont Hotels and Resorts

Raise awareness for domestic violence and contribute to a community art project this weekend

In the United States, one in four women aged 18 and older have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Everyday more than 67,000 victims of domestic violence seek services from domestic violence programs and shelters.
 
While there will be many events this March honoring Women’s History Month, this weekend, at the Society for Contemporary Craft in the Strip District, the community can come together to raise awareness for domestic violence and create something beautiful.
 
The Dignity & Respect Council of Greater Pittsburgh will be hosting the second annual Ceramic Tile Quilt Event at the Society for Contemporary Craft on Saturday, March 7, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. A ceramic tile will be painted by each guest with words and images of hope and made into a 100-pound “quilt.” Once assembled, it will be permanently displayed at Bethlehem Haven, a local women’s shelter that offers safe, supportive shelter and housing for 96 women each night. 
 
And, you don’t have to be an artist to participate. Artist Alix Paul will be attending the event again this year to guide guests though the mechanics of painting a tile and will then assemble the tiles to make the ceramic quilt.
 
“It is an honor to be a part of the Ceramic Tile Quilt Event for the second year in a row, and I can’t wait to see how the final quilt will turn out,” Paul said.
 
In addition to painting tiles, guests are asked to bring full-size shampoo, body lotion, washcloths, bath towels and flip flops to donate to Bethlehem Haven.
 
Each hour of the event will host different organizations from around Pittsburgh providing resources and information to attendants. Last year’s sponsors included the Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh, the Latino Family Center, Strong Women, Strong Girls and the YWCA Women’s Empowerment Initiative, among others.
 
Guests will also get the opportunity to view exhibitions currently at the Society for Contemporary Craft. Refreshments will be provided from Strip District merchants such as LaPrima Coffee, Enrico Biscotti and Colangelo’s Bakery.
 
The event is open to the public but guests must RSVP for a specific time slot.
 
Source: Dignity & Respect Campaign

Innovative online supper club Dinner Lab launches in Pittsburgh

Dinner Lab began in New Orleans in 2012 and has since become a national sensation. The pop-up supper club has hosted innovative dining events in cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami, Washington D.C., Philadelphia and New York. Today, Dinner Lab announced Pittsburgh as its newest city.
 
“We’re really excited about coming to Pittsburgh,” said Zach Kupperman, co-founder of Dinner Lab. “Pittsburgh [has] an amazing cultural and culinary scene … Pittsburgh is a very cool and underground cultural city with a lot going on.”
 
According to its website, Dinner Lab is an underground dining club that strips away the typical restaurant trappings and replaces it with a pop-up experience. City-dwellers become members online to receive a calendar of events. The menu is posted beforehand, but the location isn’t disclosed until the day before or the day of the event.
 
“Dinner Lab, at its core, is a membership-based social dining club,” Kupperman said.
 
The company operates as a subscription service where people pay upfront for access to the calendar. This is not to be exclusive, but how Dinner Lab subsidizes the cost of dinners, hires local people and rents kitchens. Guests then pay for each dinner and have access to not only events in the local market, but in every other city that Dinner Lab operates. Tickets, which include gratuity and alcohol, are purchased through the website a few weeks prior to the event.
 
Dinner is usually five courses (though it can be more), includes all-you-can-drink beer and wine. There's a pre-dinner cocktail hour, too. Membership rates vary between $100 and $200, depending on the participating city, but Pittsburgh’s membership rate is $125. Starting today, you can register online.
 
Dinner Lab chefs are usually the second or third at great restaurants. But, as Kupperman explained, they are often in the back of someone else’s kitchen, cooking someone else’s food. There is a disconnect between what chefs prepare on a regular basis and what they actually care about, he said.  
 
Dinner Lab pulls about 50 percent of its chefs from the local market and then will bring in top performing chefs from other Dinner Lab city markets. The group requires its chefs' food to tell a compelling story. Chefs have the opportunity to cook for an event and create a menu that is unique to their experience and palate.
 
Dinner Lab focuses on global cuisine enjoyed in random, local places outside a traditional restaurant setting. Kupperman said abandoned warehouses, old churches and rooftops are transformed for one night as a pop-up dinner venue. Guests dine together at community tables. Food is designed to be the common element to bring participants together.
 
There is also a diner feedback component to Dinner Lab. Diners rate each course and all of this information is aggregated and delivered back to the chef.
 
Though Dinner Lab officially launched in Pittsburgh today, it will be a few weeks before the first event. Kupperman said it will take time to hire people to operate the program in Pittsburgh and scout venues. Once Dinner Lab is established in a city, members can expect as many as six or seven events per month.
 
Pittsburgh’s first event will feature New Orleans Chef Mario Rodriquez, most recently of La Petite Grocery in the Big Easy. His menu concept will feature the flavors of Malay cuisine through the lens of a fine dining chef. 
 
Source: Dinner Lab, Zach Kupperman

Donate clothes to break a world record this weekend at the Public Market

In the spirit of the University of Pittsburgh’s Year of Sustainability, the Office of PittServes launched the Give a Thread Campaign, a world-record attempt at collecting 150,000 clothing items for donation and recycling. Since the campaign’s kick-off in December, the drive has gathered more than 61,000 items via the support of students, staff, faculty and local partners.
 
PittServes Director Misti McKeehen explained that the Pitt community wanted to think beyond campus when it launched Give a Thread. She said they wanted to create a project where anyone in the community could participate. And, in order for Pitt to reach the ultimate goal of breaking the world record, the university has enlisted support from the city and area organizations. Pitt’s next Give a Thread community collection event will be at the Pittsburgh Public Market on Saturday, Feb. 14, and Sunday, Feb. 15, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
 
PittServes staff will be at the Public Market, 2401 Penn Ave. in the Strip District, collecting items on both days. University students and staff will accept any clothing donation, like shoes and accessories, but only clothing items like pants, shirts, outerwear, sweaters, skirts, dresses and children’s clothes -- including baby onesies -- will count toward the Guinness goal.
 
To encourage support and patronage of the small businesses at the market, select Public Market vendors will provide discounts to customers who donate clothing items to the campaign.
 
McKeehen said those who donate at the market can enjoy a free sample of beer at the East End Brewing Co. booth, buy one get one free treats at Eliza’s Oven and Ohio City Pasta, deals at The Olive Tap and Glades Pike Winery, dollar off ice cream and a discount on Backstage Alpaca socks.
 
“There’s a lot of different kinds of coupons,” McKeehen said. “[The event is] a nice way to introduce vendors.”
 
Erika Ninos, PittServes sustainability program coordinator, said she hopes the Public Market drive brings in “a few thousand items.” She explained that the market sees 1,000 patrons per weekend. If everyone just brought five items, she mused, imagine what that could do for the drive?
 
Give a Thread is already receiving assistance from the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, the City of Pittsburgh, Bank of America, Delanie’s Coffee Shop, Mayor Bill Peduto’s Office and the Allegheny County Department of Human Services. These offices have all collected at least 1,000 items for the drive.
 
Ninos said Give a Thread has collected 65,045 items to date -- and joked that with the haul they have already collected, she can’t imagine what 150,000 items will look like. However, if PittServes has not collected 125,000 items by the end of February, they will not continue the world record campaign. If the goal is reached, the final push to reach 150,000 donations will be in March.
                         
The campaign’s Get a Thread partners will receive donations and include: Goodwill Industries of SWPA, Dress for Success and Pitt’s on-campus student-run thrift shop, Thriftsburgh. Goodwill will recycle any items unfit for donation to reduce landfill deposits.
 
“You can bring a grocery bag or a garbage bag [to the Public Market event]; any bit of clothing will help us at this point,” Ninos said, adding that it is all going toward a good cause.
 
In addition to the community collection event at the Public Market, donations are accepted throughout the University of Pittsburgh, including the William Pitt Union, 3959 Fifth Ave. The Give a Thread Campaign will be collecting items through the end of February. For a list of the drop-off locations and more information on the campaign, please visit www.pittserves.pitt.edu.
 
If your business or organization would like to participate, please reach out to the PittServes office. The deadline for donating is at the end of February.
 
Source: Misti McKeehen, Erika Ninos, PittServes
 

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

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

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.

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
 

Rent-free Wilkinsburg storefront up for grabs for interested arts nonprofit

Do you work for an arts nonprofit in need of office or gallery space? Wilkinsburg may have just the place for you.
 
PMC Management Company, LLC, a firm that owns commercial property in Wilkinsburg, has offered to temporarily donate a storefront at 811 Wood St. to a 501(c)(3) nonprofit or government-run arts organization.
 
The space will be available for donation for up to two years while the firm renovates the building’s upper floors. The unit will be donated rent-free, but interested organizations must agree to pay utilities. 
 
Qualified organizations must provide documentation detailing their nonprofit or government status as well as a plan for the donated space by Dec. 15. This information may be sent to Chuck Alcorn, Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation economic development coordinator, via email (chuck@wilkinsburgcdc.org) or general delivery (1001 Wood St., Wilkinsburg, PA 15221).
 
Activating the storefront goes hand in hand with WCDC’s mission to revitalize Wilkinsburg and surrounding areas through business and residential development and cultural enrichment.
 
“We really see this as an opportunity to bring in another positive aspect to Wilkinsburg,” Alcorn said. He added that the storefront is a promising space for local artists, as the unit is large enough to showcase work. “[We] hope that people see the potential in the space and contact us with proposals.”
 
For questions about this opportunity, please email (chuck@wilkinsburgcdc.org) or call Chuck Alcorn at (412) 727-7855.
 
Source: Chuck Alcorn, Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation

Friendship Circle finds new Squirrel Hill home at site of old Gullifty's

Rabbi Mordy Rudolph and his wife Rivkee have been running The Friendship Circle since its inception in 2006, when 15 teen volunteers were paired with about a dozen children with special needs. Today, the program boasts more than 200 alumni. 
 
The organization has outgrown its 1,200-square-foot storefront space and will move to a new, 10,000-square-foot home at 1922 Murray Ave. in Squirrel Hill as part of a multi-million dollar renovation at the site of the now-closed Gullifty's restaurant.
 
“Friendship Circle began eight years ago with about a dozen volunteers and a desire to remove barriers for children with special needs,” explained Chuck Perlow, a founding board member and co-chair of the capital campaign. “Today, this vibrant program works through nearly 300 active teen volunteers and more than 120 friends who are no longer defined by their disabilities. This unique space will be a celebration of the dramatic connections created and those yet to come.”  

Since 1994, Friendship Circle organizations have been created in more than 60 cities around the world. The program allows children and young adults with special needs to enjoy the company of teenage and young adult volunteers in a full range of social activities. Friendship Circle aims to enrich the lives of all participants through mutually advantageous interactions and lasting friendships.
 
Rudolph said the renovation will allow the growing organization to continue to engage students with activities like art, drama and cooking clubs. The renovation will include a first-floor storefront with glass windows along the Murray Avenue front of the venue, opening it to the community. This floor will include a multi-purpose space with a performance stage, a teen lounge, a pop-up gallery space, new elevator and a working kitchen for cooking clubs and other opportunities.
 
A second floor with work pods will allow youth with special needs to actively participate in the planning and behind-the-scenes work of Friendship Circle in a supported work setting. The second floor will also include a play space for younger children, a parent lounge, executive offices and conference room space for the staff of Friendship Circle. A rooftop garden and outdoor recreational space will maximize the footprint of the building and provide space for members to garden and enjoy the outdoors.
 
On a visit to a Friendship Circle site in Michigan, Rudolph said he witnessed the organization using its center to create a simulated community within the building. Inside the site were storefronts and a manufactured Main Street. While Rudolph said the idea of community is apparent in this model, he prefers the opportunity that the Murray Avenue location gives the Pittsburgh space. Participating in an existing community is more beneficial than creating an isolated environment, Rudolph said.
 
In addition to creating a person-to-person community in Friendship Circle, Rudolph said, the new building has the opportunity to create relationships with neighboring businesses. Rudolph explained that he hopes to engage with existing neighbors, like barbers and grocers, for Friendship Circle field trips and outings.
 
Working on the new venue are Perfido Weiskopf Wagstaff + Goettel Architects and construction manager John Paul Busse of F.J. Busse Company. Stuart Horne, an architect with Seigle Solow Horne and former Friendship Circle board member, is helping to oversee the project. The new venue will be completely ADA-compliant, with parking available behind the building as well as at street meters.  
 
“I think that there is tremendous potential just by moving into the space,” Rudolph said, adding that though the organization has grown so much in almost a decade, he is still excited about the future. “[In some ways,] it feels like we’re still in our infancy … like we’re just getting started.”
 
Rudolph says the goal is to complete the renovation by fall 2015, in time for the start of the 2015 – 2016 school year.
 
Source: Rabbi Mordy Rudolph, The Friendship Circle
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