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New City Cab taxi service and Project Pop Up: Downtown, two efforts to make downtown vibrant

Hailing a cab in Pittsburgh has just gotten a little easier.  Last week, Mayor Ravenstahl and Pittsburgh Transportation Group launched a new cab service dedicated to the greater downtown area.

According to a statement released by the mayor's office, this service was created in response to a demand for additional downtown transportation options.  The new City Cabs, which are currently a fleet of six black-and-white taxis, are intended to connect residents and visitors to various dining and retail destinations within the urban core. 

The service is limited to downtown, but includes destinations in the South Side, North Shore, and Oakland.

In addition to expanded transportation options for the central business district, yesterday marked the official launch of Project Pop Up: Downtown, the storefront activation project that has brought eleven new art installations and retail projects to formerly-vacant spaces in the Golden Triangle.

At yesterday’s event, the mayor said that due to the success of current efforts, the city is looking to expand the project to additional areas of downtown, including the “Skinny Building” at 641 Forbes Avenue.

At 5 p.m. this Friday a free, self-guided walking tour will showcase the various Pop Up storefronts, which include downtown’s only bookstore, a clothing boutique, a robot repair shop, Dream Cream Ice Cream, and more.  A printable map is available here.

Currently, 9 of the 11 storefronts are up and running.  Dream Cream Ice Cream announced yesterday an opening date of April 27th.  And BikePARK, a secure, weather-protected bicycle parking lot will open at 238 Fourth Avenue in June.

Writer:  Andrew Moore

Riverside Mews phase II underway, brings more energy-efficient homes to South Side

Green living options are growing again on the South Side. Riverside Mews, which includes the city’s first net-zero home, is expanding with phase II of its townhome development.  

This latest phase will bring 18 new homes to the former-brownfield redevelopment site, located south of East Carson Street between 18th and 19th Streets.  Known for blending quality urban design with energy efficiency, developer Ernie Sota says homes at Riverside Mews actually perform 40% better than Energy Star requirements.

Phase I of Riverside Mews opened in 2007, and was one of the first energy-efficient residential developments in Pittsburgh.   It debuted with 14 units, some of which featured “sky room” rooftop decks, and were designed by the team of Perkins Eastman and Strada.

Sota says a few of the original homes have resold with appreciable gains in value, which speaks to the quality of the residences.  He cites earlier neighborhood developments, such as Fox Way Commons, New Birmingham, and South Shore Place, as important efforts to which Riverside Mews has built upon.

“We’ve taken the for sale housing on the South Side to the next level…taken what those products offered to another level of quality and size and space,” he says.

Sota says each home is customized for the buyer.  Initially, only the building’s shell is constructed, and once sold, homeowners choose from a floor-plan layout that meets their needs.  

Fourteen homes are complete in phase II, and eight have been sold.  The third and final phase, to be built nearest the river, will bring 16 additional homes to the site, with an anticipated completion date of early 2013.

Writer:  Andrew Moore
Source:  Ernie Sota

Dream Cream Ice Cream, a downtown pop up store, rewards dreamers

Downtown Pittsburgh’s latest pop-up storefront, Dream Cream Ice Cream, hopes to make dreams come true with every cone it sells.  Opening in early April, the shop’s unique business model will direct a portion of its sales to 12 different “dreamers” each month.

Although the desire to open the shop originally sprang from a passion for ice cream, co-owners Alecia Shipman and Thomas Jamison say they also wanted to create a business that would support positive action in the Pittsburgh community.

To become a dreamer, one needs to submit an application.  If selected, the individual or organization picks a particular flavor of ice cream, and 25% of those sales will be donated to their cause.  Each month, a new set of dreamers will be announced.

To qualify, Jamison says the dreamer must first identify a need, not a want--that means no Rolex watches or new rims for your car.  A review committee selects dreamers based on a grading rubric to see if the idea is a good fit.

“We are looking for some key factors,” Jamison says.  “Whether it’s a theater company that needs funds for their next production, a soccer mom who wants new equipment for her kids, or a student who's trying to pay down student debt--those are all things that I think everybody would agree are just wholesome, good causes.”

But dreams won’t get funded without a little work.  To be a participant, each dreamer will work two, 7-hour work days a week.  Jamison says this relationship is beneficial for both parties: Dream Cream saves on expenses, while the dreamer can reach potential supporters.

“It’s an opportunity for you to sell your dream to folks and tie them to where this money is going,” Jamison says.

Shipman says the ice cream model, compared to crowdsourcing sites like  Kickstarter, allows dreamers to raise funds without needing to gain complete buy-in from supporters.

“Some will come down [to the shop] specifically for that reason,” Shipman says.  “But others are just going to come down because they want ice cream.  It’s more advantageous for the [dreamers] because the fund raising opportunity is a little bit more intuitive than the traditional methods.”

Dream Cream is just one of several new businesses to open as part of  Project Pop Up: Downtown, a storefront activation program that is a collaboration between Mayor Ravenstahl, the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, and the URA.

And the ice cream shop also has its own dream: to become a permanent part of Downtown Pittsburgh, after the Project Pop Up term ends.

“We’re hopeful that the relationship works out and we can be there for years to come,” Jamison says.

Dream Cream Ice Cream will open in early April at 539 Liberty Avenue, 7 days a week, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Writer:  Andrew Moore
Source:  Alecia Shipman, Thomas Jamison

Pedestrian portal to Mon Wharf Landing designs unveiled

When the Mon Wharf Landing linear park was completed in 2009, it might have looked great, but it remained isolated and difficult to reach.  That should soon change though, as Riverlife and Point Park University unveiled designs last Friday for a pedestrian portal from Downtown’s Wood Street to the Monongahela riverfront.

The designs are the result of a collaboration between New York City-based artist Nobuho Nagasawa and Fred Bonci and Natalie Byrd of local landscape architecture firm LaQuatra Bonci Associates.

A 40 foot mast and stay cable structure topped with an LED beacon will signal pedestrian access to an existing staircase, making it a much more logical point of entry, says Stephan Bontrager, Riverlife Director of Communications.

And according to Nagasawa’s artist statement, as pedestrians descend those steps, they will view a “jointed skeletal spine, suspended by cables from the Parkway support beams, reminiscent of the bones of a whale and the ribs and keel of a long boat.  The spine follows the lighted path from above and extends beyond the Parkway to the river side floating pier.”

The project’s next phase is fundraising for final design and construction, to be led by Point Park University and Riverlife.

In addition to this portal, Riverlife is currently raising funds for the construction of two other trail-related projects: the Mon Wharf switchback, an ADA, bicycle/pedestrian ramp that will connect to the landing from the Smithfield Street Bridge; and a western-end connection tied to construction at Point State Park. 

Riverlife currently has 1/3 of the funding it needs to build those two connections, which are otherwise shovel-ready.

Bontrager says these projects will shed a brighter light on a riverfront with great views and offer more opportunities to access the Monongahela.

“I really do think that these connections are going to breathe new life into the landing,” he says.

Writer:  Andrew Moore
Source:  Stephan Bontrager, Riverlife

Highland and Wallace buildings' redevelopment underway in East Liberty

After 25 years of vacancy, the Historic Highland and Wallace buildings in East Liberty are under renovation and will once again offer housing and retail opportunities to the community.  Construction began Monday on the 103-year-old complex, which is being converted to 129 apartments, 5,000 sq. ft. of retail space, and will include a 180-car parking garage.

Earlier this month, the URA approved the transfer of the properties to Highland Wallace Joint Venture, a development partnership which includes Walnut Capital and Massaro Properties.

Gregg Perelman, of Walnut Capital, says the work is to be “100% historic renovation,” and will restore the exteriors and interiors of both structures.  Built by Henry Clay Frick in 1909, the Highland Building was designed by Daniel Burnham, and placed on the National Register of Historic Properties in 1991.

Last year, the development hinged on two key funding components: a $4.5 million grant from the state for construction of a parking garage, and federal financing from HUD, both of which the project received.

The project is on a 14-month timeline, with the first rental units to be available by June 1st, 2013.

The apartments will feature oversized windows, stone counter tops, stainless steel appliances, high ceilings, and a washer and dryer in each unit.  The units will primarily be 1-bedroom apartments, however a few 2-bedroom units will be available.

And in nearby Larimer, the Larimer Consensus Group is inviting residents to participate in the Larimer Avenue Corridor "Vision to Action" Kick Off Event.  This will be the first in a planning series focusing on the transformation of the Larimer neighborhood.  Among many issues, the consensus group is looking for ideas on housing, education, safety, health, and commercial development.  Thursday, March 29 at 6:00 p.m., the Kingsley Association (6435 Frankstown Avenue).

Writer:  Andrew Moore
Source:  Gregg Perelman, Walnut Properties

Lawrenceville's Paint Monkey offers art-as-entertainment group sessions

Lawrenceville’s newest business, Paint Monkey, wants to tap into the creative juices of Pittsburgh’s many latent artists.  Located within the Ice House Studios, this “art as entertainment,” do-it-yourself venue equips would-be painters with instruction and materials, while attendees are encouraged to bring friends, imagination, and a bottle of wine.

Groups of 8-30 choose a painting type from an online catalog.  In the studio, all materials are provided--including aprons--and artist Joe Groom walks you through each step, painting along with the group in 2-3 hours sessions.  

Groom says Paint Monkey is like a personal version of PBS’s Joy of Painting, except a lot more fun.  Music plays in the background (you can bring your own iPod), and you’re welcome to bring food and drink.  And unlike in your living room, it’s ok if a few drops of paint land on the former ice-warehouse’s concrete floors.

Groom says that although many people haven’t painted since they were kids, once the first stroke touches canvas, it all comes back.

“People are creative,”  he says, “you just got to give them an opportunity to get it going.”

Groom says the point of Paint Monkey is less about developing impeccable skills, than it is about entertainment, and being creative in a social environment.

Paint Monkey accommodates all group types, including kids’ birthday parties, senior citizen groups, office co-workers, or even a candle-lit date night.

Paint Monkey is co-owned by Groom and Mary Lou Bradley.  The recently-engaged couple moved to Pittsburgh from Central Florida last October.  Mary Lou grew up in Pittsburgh’s Overbrook neighborhood, but has lived in New York and Florida for the past 30 years.

For a Pittsburgh native, whose notions of the city were informed by years of industrial decline, Bradley was excited and surprised by the city’s transformation, and by the opportunity it could now offer her.

“I don’t think we could have done this anywhere else,” she says.

Bradley and Groom enjoy exploring the revitalized city, and feel especially at home in Lawrenceville’s creative community.

Paint Monkey sessions range from $35 to $45, and offer a reduced rate for kids.  They plan special events, such as Paint Your Pet, and are able to bring Paint Monkey on the road.

Paint Money, 100 43rd Street, Studio 212. Lawrenceville. 412-770-4923.

Writer:  Andrew Moore
Source:  Mary Lou Bradley, Joe Groom

Changes coming to the Strip: Wholey's warehouse redevelopment; Smallman Street study

Big changes are coming to the Strip District, as two iconic buildings are being readied for major renovations, streetscape improvements are planned, and businesses expand.

A massive warehouse, formerly used by Wholey’s  Market, and still best known for the store’s affixed neon logo, will soon be redeveloped into Class ’A’ office space.  Monroeville-based developer Sampson Morris Group plans to build 225,000 square feet of new LEED-certified office space, and over 120 indoor parking spaces for tenants.

The 7-floor, concrete structure is currently windowless, however new facades will include massive window cut-outs, giving the former cold-storage structure its first-ever openings.  Renovations will add new elevators, heating and cooling systems, and other amenities.

Designed by Desmone & Associates Architects, the building will offer loft-style office spaces, in a style architect Eric Booth calls “converted warehouse chic.”

In other Strip news: Last Thursday, the URA approved a $250,000 grant to the city to help pay for design work related to the Smallman Street corridor.  This work will establish baseline documents of existing conditions, and is tied to the Buncher Company’s planned partial demolition and renovation of the historic Produce Terminal.

The Buncher Company’s current plan is to build a road connecting Penn Avenue to the Allegheny Riverfront, where the developer will build a mixed-use development on 55 acres of land it owns behind the Produce Terminal.

The Smallman Street design work will begin to address necessary changes to accommodate the increased numbers of new residents and traffic that the Buncher development would bring.

And finally, Parma Sausage Products, Inc. is expanding to an adjacent space on Penn Avenue.  The former Fudgie Wudgie shop will be used by Parma as an improved, more aesthetically pleasing space for retail and wholesale customers.  Parma, established in the Strip in 1954, offers salami and dry-cured products, as well as fresh and cooked meats.

And Carhops Sub Shop is the latest restaurant to open in the Strip District, offering cheesesteaks, pizza, and Italian sandwiches.  Relocated to the Strip from the South Hills, Carhops is open Monday through Saturday, 10 to 6 p.m.  1806 Smallman Street, Strip District.  412-904-4774.

Writer:  Andrew Moore

Northside Leadership Confernece receives $600,000 for neighborhood revitalization efforts

The Northside Leadership Conference (NSLC) has received a total of $600,000 from First Niagara, and First National Bank of Pennsylvania, boosting real estate and business district revitalization projects throughout Northside neighborhoods.

The first pledge of $300,000 was announced last week, with funds from First Niagara targeting  NSLC’s real estate development programs.  The pledge will include $50,000 annually for six years.

The partnership was announced at the former Ludwig’s Floral building on East Ohio Street, where it and an adjacent storefront are to be renovated as two commercial units, and two second-floor apartments.  The project was supported by previous NPP funding.

“Community development is a difficult business, and our projects are not routine,” says Mark Fatla, NSLC executive director.  “They need creative solutions, and First Niagara’s folks understand that and…share their technical expertise with us.”

Construction of this project, to include streetscape and façade improvements, is scheduled to begin later this summer.

The second $300,000 pledge, from First National, was announced yesterday, and is targeted to support NSLC’s work in business district revitalization.  These efforts include supporting existing businesses, recruiting businesses or new entrepreneurs, as well as marketing and branding business districts, and beautification projects.

Previously, First National financed the $1.7 million streetscape reconstruction of Allegheny West’s Western Boulevard commercial corridor, which included new sidewalks, curbs, trees, and lighting.

“Normally you don’t see banks financing in an infrastructure project like that, but they understood where we were going, why it made sense,” Fatla says.  He adds that First National’s shared expertise allows NSLC to make stronger deals and better decisions.

Both partnerships are part of the Neighborhood Partnership Program (NPP) administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.  First National has become NSLC’s 6th corporate partner under the program, joining H.J. Heinz Co., the Pittsburgh Steelers, Huntington Bank, and E&O Partners.

Writer:  Andrew Moore
Source:  Mark Fatla, NSLC

From a taco stand in the Strip to Casa Rasta in Beechview

Beechview’s Broadway Avenue has gained another dining destination with the opening of Casa Rasta, a Caribbean-influenced taco shop and BYOB.  The shop’s owners completed renovations to their exterior earlier this week, and have added an outdoor patio along the avenue.

Chef Antonio Fraga was born in Mexico City, but traveled extensively throughout his country before coming to the United States.  He says through this experience he learned a wide variety of regional Mexican cooking; growing up with his grandmother and mother, Fraga learned hearty home cooking at their side.

And although Jamaican Jerk Chicken tacos might at first sound unusual, if tasty, to some, Fraga says Caribbean influences can be found in many parts of Mexico.  But more than that, Fraga says he wants to show people that you can put whatever you want inside a taco.

“The whole idea of the taco is you grab your tortilla, [put] your favorite food in the middle, and you roll it, eat it, and enjoy it,” he says.

Menu items include cochinita pibil tacos, a marinated pork recipe Fraga grew up with; not-too-spicy Jamaican Jerk wings with mango and avocado salsa; and birria shredded beef tacos.  Past weekend specials have included tinga tostadas, chilaquiles with salsa verde, and spicy curry shrimp tacos.

Fraga says the goal of Casa Rasta is to bring people together over high-quality, affordable food.

"It's food that you share with people that you care [about],” he says.

Last fall, Fraga and wife Laura operated a small taco stand in the Strip District.  There they honed their recipes, and were encouraged to open a full-service shop in Beechview, where the couple lives.

Fraga admits Beechview is still off many people’s radars, but that several new businesses are transforming vacant storefronts into vibrant destinations.  He cites great pizza shops, Italian restaurants, and a growing Mexican community, as contributing to this turnaround.

“This is the neighborhood that hopefully in the future will be my kids' neighborhood too,” Fraga says, “And I’m trying to make it better for everybody.” 

Casa Rasta is open Wednesday through Monday, for lunch and dinner.  2102 Broadway Avenue, Beechview, 15216.  412-223-6106.
Writer:  Andrew Moore
Source:  Antonio Fraga

North Shore Connector opening, new T stations dazzle

The North Shore Connector, the latest expansion of the Port Authority's "T" Light Rail service, will officially open for service on Sunday, March 25th.  The 1.2 mile extension will pass under the Allegheny River, connecting Downtown Pittsburgh with the North Shore, PNC Park, and Heinz Field.

In addition to the new transit line, three new T stations were constructed as part of the project.  The new Gateway Station features a translucent structure which brings natural lighting into the underground platform.  The station was designed by the Light/Motion Collaborative, a joint venture between EDGE Studio and Pfaffmann & Associates.

Located within Gateway Station is the restored “Pittsburgh Recollections” mural by renowned artist Romare Bearden.  Originally completed in 1984, prior to the opening of the original Gateway T station, the mural was carefully restored over a 13-month period by conservator McKay Lodge, and installed in its new location last fall.

The mural features transportation motifs, and an interpretive timeline of Pittsburgh history, from Native American culture to modern industry.

The North Side Station was designed by Cooper Carry, of New York, and the Allegheny Station was designed by Burt Hill, of Pittsburgh.

The T’s Free Fare Zone will be extended to both new North Shore stops, and will continue to include all stops Downtown.

Last month, the Port Authority announced that along with a previous agreement between the Stadium Authority and Alco Parking, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Rivers Casino would underwrite the northernmost segment of the North Shore Connector.  This will allow for free rides at all times, at no cost to the Port Authority, and is expected to last up to three years.
Travel time between Allegheny station (end of line) and Wood Street Station is estimated at 9 minutes.  Service will run 7 days a week, with extra service during special events.  Cars will arrive every 4 minutes during peak periods.  Schedules are available at the Port Authority website.

The $523 million project was funded through federal, state, and county funds.  According to the Port Authority, these were capital funds specific to the project, and cannot legally be applied to the agency’s operating budget deficit, or to prevent service cuts or fare increases. 

Port Authority spokesperson Jim Ritchie says that if the most recently proposed budget cuts do take place, light rail service will be cut back in September.

“Obviously, we don’t want to cut service,” Ritchie says, “So we're…looking to make sure that doesn't happen if at all possible, and we're taking the steps necessary to try to achieve that.”

Ritchie says that the future of transit in Pittsburgh, whether it be further extension of the T Light Rail service, or Bus Rapid Transit between Downtown and Oakland, is at the will of the community.

“We're going to go in the direction the community wants us to go, and that's what we’re looking for,” Ritchie says.

Writer:  Andrew Moore
Source:  Jim Ritchie

Bellevue Streetscape Design kick-off; Active Living Workshop reports findings

Lincoln Avenue, the Main Street of Bellevue and Avalon, may soon get a makeover.  On Thursday, the Borough of Bellevue will host a Streetscape Design Kick-Off event, including a walking tour of the avenue, and a brainstorming session for planning the future of this important corridor.

The purpose of tomorrow's event is to identify, among residents and business owners, the likes and dislikes of the current streetscape, and to begin the discussion of what design elements should be incorporated into an improved Lincoln Avenue.

According to Douglas Sampler, Bellevue’s director of administrative services, the borough has applied for $450,000 in additional grants to actually implement and construct the streetscape improvements.   

But Sampler says it is an expensive process, with an average cost of $1 million per block for total streetscape renovations.  Because of that, the borough will chose one tangible goal--whether it be adding street trees, lighting, bump-outs, or park benches--and complete those tasks in the first phase.

This initiative comes on the heels of the recent Active Living Workshop, which was held in neighboring Avalon last November.  The goal of that event was to reinvent Lincoln Avenue, for both communities, as a “100% destination,” serving the needs of people of all ages and abilities.

The Walkable and Livable Communities Institute, which hosted the workshop with the AARP, published a report last week that detailed the strengths and weaknesses of the Lincoln Avenue corridor.  The report includes a walking audit and assessment of exiting conditions, mid-term recommendations, and a photo-visualization of proposed improvements to Lincoln Avenue.

The Borough of Bellevue received a $40,000 Community Development Block Grant from Allegheny County to hire a design firm and to develop the new streetscape plan.  A representative of that firm, Civil & Environmental Consultants, Inc, will facilitate tomorrow’s public meeting.

Sampler says this streetscape beautification effort shows that Bellevue is committed to developing its downtown commercial district.

“There’s not a lot of small downtowns left in this area, and we still have a vibrant one,” Sampler says.  “We can make it better, make it more attractive, not only for our current residents, but also use it as a drawing card to bring in future residents.”

On March 22nd, the Active Living Workshop will reconvene at the Avalon Public Library Conference Room, 317 South Home Avenue; 10:00 to 11:00 a.m., or 6:00 to 7:00 p.m.

The Streetscape Design Kick-Off will be held tomorrow, March 8th, at the Bellevue Municipal Building, 537 Bayne Avenue, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Image:  Walkable and Livable Communities Institute, Photo-Visualization: A Vision of Bellevue

Writer:  Andrew Moore
Source:  Douglas Sampler, Borough of Bellevue; Kelly Altmire, AARP

Pittsburgh Green House now open in East Liberty, an eco-home training facility

In East Liberty, a 110-year old home has been given new life as the Pittsburgh Green House.  A project of ACTION-Housing, Inc., the Green House will be a weatherization training and educational facility, where classes and workshops will focus on residential energy and water savings, and making homes healthier.

ACTION-Housing is the largest provider or weatherization assistance to low income residents in Pennsylvania, serving Greene, Washington, and Allegheny County.  However, according to program administrator Lindsay Ruprecht, the Green House will offer a new service that is unlike any other resource  in the region.

Ruprecht says that while other institutions do offer great weatherization training, because they’re often in sterile, classroom settings, contractors aren't necessarily prepared for the rough conditions of the region’s aging housing stock.  To address that, the Green House has been left intentionally "raw," so that learners can experience hands-on what it's like to retrofit a home more similar to the majority of houses in Pittsburgh.

"We wanted to do it in a real house where the contractors would have real opportunities, in a 110-year-old house, to really see what happens in something that's wonky," Ruprecht says. "Things aren't perfect."

In addition to providing this training, Ruprecht says her organization wanted to fill what it perceived to be a middle-class resource gap.  For those households that don't qualify for low-income programs, Ruprecht says the Green House will allow greater access to do-it-yourself projects that can reduce a home’s carbon footprint.

Classes will be taught on a rotating basis by ACTION-Housing staff, as well as product specialists and experts from local nonprofits.  For contractors, hands-on training includes building science, weatherization skills, blower door technology, and Building Performance Institute certification.  Some courses are free, while others have associated fees.

The Pittsburgh Green House, 308 N. Sheridan Avenue, is open for public tours Wednesday through Saturday.  Call 412-362-4PGH for more information.

Upcoming classes:

March 21st, Home Energy 101, 12pm.  Learn easy, inexpensive ways of cutting your energy consumption around the house. Focus areas will be water, light, heating/cooling and electricity.

March 22nd, Water Use in the Home, learn about the different ways to save water in your home, and why decreasing burden on Pittsburgh's water system is important.  6pm.

Writer:  Andrew Moore
Source:  Lindsay Ruprecht

Downtown booming: Mattiniero, Madonna's now open; River Vue Apartments, and more

Downtown continues to boom with multiple developments, as more restaurants open and new residential opportunities become available.

The first tenants of the River Vue Apartments are expected to begin moving in on April 16th, when the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th floors of this 16-story structure will be completed.  The building (300 Liberty Avenue), which is a conversion of the former State office building, offers views of the city’s thee rivers confluence, and is adjacent to Point State Park.

Kelly Nicholson, of River Vue’s management group, says there are still units available for lease, including one of the top-floor townhouses.  All 16 floors of the development are expected to be completed by September.

In addition to completing several floors next month, Stone Neapolitan Pizzeria and Pub has signed a lease for a first-floor storefront in the River Vue building.  The pizzeria boasts wood-fired pizza in under 90 seconds.

On Monday, Mattiniero opened its doors, becoming the latest eatery to open in the Golden Triangle.  Located just outside Market Square, and across from the Fairmont Hotel, the take-out-only space offers sweet and savory breakfast items, made-to-order salads, daily-made sandwiches, and a full coffee and espresso bar.

Mattiniero -- Italian for early riser -- is part of Vallozzi’s restaurant, which will open in an adjacent space next Monday, March 12th.  The 170-seat Italian restaurant and wine bar will be Vallozzi’s second location, in addition to the 33-year-old original in Greensburg.

After 11 years in Downtown Pittsburgh, Madonna’s Authentic Mexican Food has relocated to a more prominent location at 441 Smithfield Street.  Open from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m, Madonna’s fresh offerings include tacos, burritos, and  quesadillas.

And yesterday, the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership released its Annual Report during the organization's Annual Meeting.  According to the report, the popular Paris to Pittsburgh program was able to leverage $541,696 in private investment last year for façade improvements and street front activation.

Writer:  Andrew Moore
Source:  Kelly Nicholson; Julian Vallozzi; Maro Moussa

Public meetings Thursday for MOVEPGH, city's first comprehensive transportation plan

The City of Pittsburgh is developing its first ever comprehensive transportation plan, and is asking residents to help shape that emerging vision.  Known as MOVEPGH, the effort is one of 12 components of PLANPGH, and will guide transportation decisions and spending for the next 25 years.

City Planning and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl will host the latest public meeting tomorrow, March 8th, at the CONSOL Energy Center.

The stated purpose of MOVEPGH is to provide a safe and efficient transportation network that meets the city's commercial, residential, and recreational needs. Once completed, the plan will be a vision of the city's transportation network for 2035.

Director of City Planning Noor Ismail says that at this stage in the process there will likely be a lot of competing interests, and community support will have to be developed. 

“We have a unique challenge ahead of us because we are a built-out city,” Ismail says.  “How can you accommodate growth, given our existing systems?  It's really a change of paradigm in that sense.”

Patrick Roberts, the city’s principal transportation planner, says one benefit of these public meetings is allowing various transit advocates to meet face-to-face.  Roberts hopes these sessions will lead to greater civic engagement.

After brief remarks, tomorrow’s session will then break into small groups for discussion of the planning department’s draft set of goals. 

"[The goals] are quite board at this point in time because we haven't been identifying specific projects yet, but we do find it necessary to get feedback from the public at every step of the process," Roberts says.

Roberts says because all modes of transportation are present the city, MOVEPGH needs to account for how well those different modes are coordinated, whether there is an imbalance in spending, or an inequity that's created.

“Sometimes a highway investment actually creates a barrier just as much as it creates a fast way to get out of the city,” he says.  “So we are tasked with looking toward our neighborhoods again to say, what does serve Pittsburgh better, and what does this renaissance mean in terms of transportation.”

And although issues of funding will not be addressed at this stage in the process, Ismail does say that the most recent round of proposed cuts to the Port Authority signal an urgent need for that to be addressed.

“In fact for me it needs to be addressed by yesterday,” she says.  “Those cuts reflect that something needs to be done."

MOVEPGH public meetings will be held in two shifts, on Thursday, March 8: 12:00 to 2:00 p.m., or 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.  CONSOL Energy Center, PNC Legends Level.

Writer:  Andrew Moore
Source:  Noor Ismail, Patrick Roberts

Garfield Glen will add 45 new rental units to neighborhood, celebrates groundbreaking

An official groundbreaking ceremony was held in Garfield last Friday for the construction of 45 new units of affordable housing.  The homes will be scattered throughout the neighborhood, replacing vacant lots and an uninhabitable housing stock with new home construction.

The Garfield Glen development is a project of the Bloomfield-Garfield Association.  Deputy Director Aggie Brose says that in recent years her organization has been successful in constructing new houses that were targeted for home ownership.  In the coming months, BGA will have added a total of 50 new homes-for-sale to the neighborhood.

But Brose notes that not everyone can be, or desires to be, a homeowner.  To address that, part of BGC’s latest housing and land-use plan called for adding more rental units to the neighborhood.

And although Garfield Glen will consist of rentals units, because of tax credits that the project received, tenants will have the opportunity to purchase their home after 15 years.  BGC will offer programs to help tenants work on their credit, as well as other programs to assist in future home ownership.

“It's a beautiful program to rebuilt the neighborhood on,” Brose says.

Brose says her organization looked to East Liberty Development, Inc. when planning this project, and wanted a development that resembled East Liberty’s newer rental units.  The homes are designed by Lami Grubb Architects, and will be built by  S&A Homes.

BGC spent two years planning Garfield Glen, seeking funding for tax credits, and locating appropriate sites for the development. They will be offered at a mix of low- and middle-income, and market rates, with construction completed by May of this year.

Writer:  Andrew Moore
Source:  Aggie Brose
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