Certain neighborhoods in Pittsburgh get a lot of attention and investment. Others clearly do not. The Urban Redevelopment Authority’s Neighborhood Initiatives Fund Program hopes to rectify that by giving a boost to projects in underserved communities.
Since 2019, the URA initiative has invested nearly $2 million in 37 projects across 25 of Pittsburgh’s 90 neighborhoods.
For this most recent round, the URA received 41 applications. Announced in late July, the seven final recipients across five neighborhoods will split $527,345.
The most recognizable recipient is the Pittsburgh Glass Center, which received $50,000 for an expansion project in Garfield that NEXTpittsburgh has covered extensively.
The underappreciated Afro-American Music Institute, which hosts concerts and offers lessons in Homewood, will receive $60,000 for a major expansion. And LA Grocery, a community store at 511 Larimer Ave. in Larimer, is getting $63,040 in cooperation with the Larimer Consensus Group to repair its deteriorating facade and expand.
“They’re acquiring a parcel (next door) so that they can expand some outdoor seating and an outdoor patio because the owner also sells hot food from his grocery,” says Josette Fitzgibbons, manager of Neighborhood Business District programs for the URA. “It’s creating this community space and then assisting the staple that’s been part of the community.”
“We are excited to be awarding over $500,000 to these critical community-driven projects,” Mayor Ed Gainey said in a press release. “These grants will help us build pathways to prosperity and will help us make Pittsburgh into a city where everyone who lives here and works here can thrive.”
“Organizations throughout the city would come to us with ideas or small projects or something that kind of didn’t really fit our loan programs, or our larger development programs, but we always thought were good ideas,” says Fitzgibbons. “And so this Neighborhood Initiatives Fund was started to address those smaller projects in neighborhoods that we aren’t working in so much, or with organizations that maybe we haven’t had a chance to work with before.”
Covid and other economic disruptions have changed a lot of local business districts, and the Neighborhood Initiatives Fund intends to help rebuild them. The Hazelwood Brewery (actually three distinct breweries in a 1905 building) has been in the works for a while but was delayed by the pandemic and supply chain problems. The Progress Fund is receiving $100,000 for the brewery project, which will include a new public gathering space.
Nearby, at 2nd Avenue and Tecumseh Streets is another project by the Hazelwood Initiative that’s slowly turning a vacant lot — of which there are many in Hazelwood — into a public space. Not only will the $70,000 grant go toward sprucing up the space, but all-weather vendor booths will be added for emerging local entrepreneurs.
The Community Empowerment Association of Homewood is getting $100,000 to build a plaza next to its offices at 7120 Kelly St.
“So the way that they’re designing it is there’ll be seating and planters but then these art pieces that have QR codes on them, featuring different figures and historic places in the neighborhood that folks can scan,” says Jamie Piotrowski of the URA.
Some codes will take readers to online articles while others will broadcast audio clips that highlight the history of Homewood.
Brighton Heights is also getting an outdoor community space — the St. John’s Community Green Space — on the site of a demolished hospital of the same name. The Brighton Heights Citizens Federation is receiving $84,305 for initial work on the project.
“The community in Brighton Heights, the way the roads are designed, don’t have great access to a park. The grant will help create bicycle trail infrastructure (bike racks, benches and trail preparation), says Fitzgibbons. “Brighton Heights Citizens Federation has been working with Allegheny Land Trust on this as part of a much larger project — turning that whole hospital site into permanent green space for the neighborhood.”