Seth Zimmerman of BIGr outside Joe's Rusty Nail, a Bellevue diner since 1979. Photo by Brian Conway.

While syruping a mound of pancakes at Joe’s Rusty Nail Restaurant in Bellevue’s Lincoln Avenue business district, local resident and activist Seth Zimmerman tells the story of how he and his young family ended up calling this upriver borough of some 8,000 people home.

“We couldn’t afford a house in Sewickley that we wanted to buy,” says the former Sewickley resident. “We were really attracted to a community that had a community center — this business district was really appealing to us.”

Zimmerman, age 28, is the chair of the Improve the Vue committee of the Bellevue Initiative for Growth and Revitalization (BIGr), a role in which he organizes volunteers for community projects. Last month, he and volunteers improved the “Vue” by painting churches, planting flowers and tending to the community herb garden next to the YMCA.

He ticks off the various amenities Bellevue has to offer: close proximity to the airport and Downtown, a historic library, weekly farmer’s market, a children’s theater, a skate park, and a bustling business district with diners, a coffee shop, bakery and even a bar — as of 2015, Bellevue is no longer a dry town.

One of the homes on the Bellevue home tour. Photo courtesy BIGr.

If only more people knew about it.

“We want people to come see what we have to offer,” he says. “Most people drive by on 65 or 279 and never see the business district.”

To that end, this Saturday, October 21, Bellevue is hosting its 3rd annual “Live Worship Shop” home tour. And while there are a few mansions on this year’s itinerary — what would any house tour be without at least some Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous fantasizing — there’s also one half of a duplex on the tour, as well as other more affordable options.

“We want to highlight the diversity of homes and communicate that Bellevue is hospitable to a diverse group of people.”

Through his own interactions, Zimmerman believes the fastest-growing demographic is young professionals.

“A lot of them have seen the potential,” he says. “Buy a good house for a growing family, easy access to there city and a nice small community feel. I’ve made a ton of friends. I’ve got three little kids. There are a ton of strollers being pushed around.”

At the same time, Zimmerman says that BIGr is cognizant that for some longstanding residents, revitalization and a sudden desirability could mean displacement.

“Gentrification: we’ve seen it happen before, in Lawrenceville. So we want to be conscious about how we’re pursuing revitalization in such a way that we’re still hospitable to people who are only ever going to be able to rent here, or pursue a house at a certain price point.”

“We want the cool, hip young businesses to come in,” he continues, “but not at the expense of the mom-and-pop shops.”

The Bellevue Home Tour happens October 21 and tickets are available online.  

Brian Conway is a writer and photographer whose articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune and local publications. In his free time, he operates Tripsburgh. Brian lives in the South Side.