By: Margaret J. Krauss | 90.5 WESA | August 15, 2019
Pittsburgh’s Urban Redevelopment Authority wants to bring more people into the redevelopment of Centre Avenue in the Hill District. The agency is seeking ideas for mixed-use development across 170 mostly vacant parcels.
At a public meeting in the neighborhood Wednesday, officials emphasized that their work is meant to implement the existing Centre Avenue Corridor Redevelopment and Design plan. Finished in 2015, the community-driven document describes the corridor’s assets and what kinds of development residents want to see.
Marimba Milliones is president and CEO of the Hill Community Development Corporation, which spearheaded the Centre Avenue plan, created by architecture and planning firm evolveEA. Redevelopment must include the people who already live and work in the community, she said.
“We don’t want to see displacement of residents,” she said. “We don’t want to see the type of gentrification that ignores or turns its back to the important cultural heritage of the Hill District.”
Instead, the plan envisions restoring Centre Avenue as a center of commerce and a neighborhood-serving business district, one anchored by small and minority- and women-owned business enterprises.
To further that goal, the URA lowered the barrier to entry, said Laya Mathews, a project development specialist.
“We really wanted to reach out far so smaller developers, [minority and women] developers, residents who are just interested in community ownership can also respond,” she said. “Instead of just big developers who always have the money to respond.”
Typically, when the URA requests development ideas, applicants must pay a fee, provide evidence of financing and even submit early design drawings. In the case of Centre Avenue, that would mean putting together a detailed plan for all 170 parcels, said Bethany Davidson, manager of land recycling. This time, the URA decided to change the process.
“It’s expensive. It can be an investment up front,” she said. “We want respondents to have some level of guarantee, some commitment before they spend … some of those resources.”
The preferred re-use of land along the corridor is a mix of commercial space and affordable and market-rate housing, said Davidson. Proposals will be reviewed for whether they support the Centre Avenue Corridor plan, as well as the Greater Hill District Master Plan.
All projects that meet the initial criteria will go before the community. Detailed drawings and financing will be deferred until after the URA board has taken a preliminary vote on the project. The URA hired nonprofit Neighborhood Allies to provide technical assistance to interested applicants.
Responses to the URA are due on Oct. 22, but officials fully expect development of the corridor will occur in phases: after the first round of projects are approved, another request for ideas will be issued for the remaining parcels.