Courtesy of Larimer Consensus Group.

One of Larimer’s iconic historic buildings is getting a new lease on life.

Last week, the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh voted to use federal funds to turn the Larimer School into a 35-unit, mixed-income housing complex. Donna Jackson, chair of the Larimer Consensus Group neighborhood organization, says the project was inspired by similar school-to-apartment redevelopment projects in other parts of the city, such as Schenley High School.

The renovations are only the latest piece of a much larger redevelopment plan known as the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative. Pittsburgh was one of four cities to receive the highly competitive $30 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2014.

Altogether, the funds are expected to create a total of 334 units of mixed-income housing, as well as a community park, by the end of 2020. The Larimer Consensus Group has been a key partner for the city during the planning and implementation of the initiative, with their previous studies and research forming the foundation of the three-phase plan.

Jackson tells NEXTpittsburgh that preserving the historic character of the schoolhouse was an important goal for community stakeholders. Like many underserved parts of the city, Larimer has struggled with disinvestment and declining populations for the last several decades, leaving many pieces of the neighborhood’s architectural heritage vacant or demolished.

“The school,” Jackson says, “is one of the last historical sites we have.”

Despite being listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1986, the red brick Larimer School building has sat empty for decades, with ownership changing hands several times as successive redevelopment efforts failed to gain traction. McCormack Baron Salazar, a St. Louis-based development company specializing in mixed-use projects is partnering with the city on the project.

While much of the Choice Neighborhoods plan is focused on building and maintaining housing, the HUD funds will also support economic and workforce development. Jackson says that her organization hopes to eventually help local entrepreneurs, like the ones from the all-female Catapult incubator on Penn Avenue, set up permanent retail spaces near the new housing developments.

Larimer was chosen for the Choice Neighborhoods grant in part because it sits tantalizingly close to several neighborhoods that have seen booming growth in the last 10 years, including East Liberty and Shadyside. The city’s hope is that an infusion of attractive new housing and public amenities will jumpstart private investment, attracting new residents and improving the quality of life for longstanding residents.

“Affordable housing is very important in this city because things are moving fast in Pittsburgh,” says Caster Binion, executive director of the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh. “We get to make sure as we progress that we are not leaving people behind.”

Bill O'Toole

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.