It’s safe to say that Bakery Square has been a massive success story, turning a giant abandoned Nabisco factory into a giant generator for more than 4,000 high-tech jobs from some of the world’s largest companies, from Google to Philips. It’s also brought hundreds of housing units, restaurants and retailers to the once-neglected neighborhood of Larimer.
However, there was a flaw in the plan, and developer Walnut Capital seems to realize it. The whole development turns its back on the actual neighborhood of Larimer — with gray, monolithic parking garages facing the neighborhood, while the rest of the complex faces Shadyside. The busway and railroad tracks form an additional barrier.
“For a long time, my business partner Todd (Reidbord) and I were so focused on Bakery’s success, that we didn’t look enough towards building bridges towards the community that we sit in, which is Larimer,” says Gregg Perelman, founding partner and CEO of Walnut Capital. “That was a mistake. But I think we’ve turned the corner.”
Now, Walnut Capital is focusing efforts on the residential portion of Larimer, and is partnering with the Urban Redevelopment Authority to build 10 new, affordable for-sale houses.
On Wednesday afternoon, city officials and neighborhood leaders broke ground on the houses on Mayflower Street. The $1 million project is funded by Bakery Square through its participation in the East Liberty Transit Revitalization Investment District and includes another $1 million for workforce development programs.
“The community wants to benefit from wealth being created at Bakery Square,” says Perelman. “Job training. Entrepreneurship opportunities. And number one — for-sale, affordable housing.”
The project is in the design phase, led by Joseph Serrao of TKA Architects, who was raised in Larimer. The first two houses will have three bedrooms, and will be affordable to families at or below 80% of the area median income.
“There’s a strong reason we picked Joe,” says Richard Snipe, assistant director of the Pittsburgh Housing Development Corp. “Joe has roots in this community. His grandfather came to Larimer in 1927. And from there, a host of aunts and uncles made Larimer their home. Joe grew up just a couple blocks from here on Collins Avenue, and his mother still lives right across the Meadow Street Bridge. Joe understands the history, and we’re glad to have him play a part.”
They’re also working on designing a pedestrian bridge between Bakery Square and Larimer, over the railroad tracks and busway. It’s expected to cost $10 million, and the URA is voting this week to authorize applying for a federal grant.
“We’re going to work very closely with the community on that design,” says Perelman.
“This is the first time we’ve seen a real investment in Larimer,” said state representative and mayoral candidate Ed Gainey.
“And to Ora Lee Carroll (the neighborhood activist who died in 2013). Thank you or being ‘the Larimer bully’ — for doing whatever needed to be done, for being steadfast and doing all you could to secure a better place in Larimer for people.”
The “refresh” of Bakery Square’s expanded public space and its new restaurants, täkō and the Galley, are designed to better connect with the surrounding neighborhood. Public art projects — created by local artists with help from nearby schools — are also envisaged as a way to make the site more a part of the community.
“Walnut Capital’s recent community public art project and the addition of GG’s Cafe (one of the mini-restaurants in Galley Bakery Square), two ‘backyard grown’ initiatives, resulted in Bakery Square being one of the most inclusive environments in the city,” says Donna Jackson, board chair of the Larimer Consensus Group. “The next phase of our partnership with Walnut Capital is even more exciting, as they’ve listened to our plea for more affordable housing so that Larimer residents can own a home … That’s true equity.”
In other news for Bakery Square, this week the Altoona-based gas/convenience store giant Sheetz announced it is moving its tech and innovation departments to 20,000 square feet in Bakery Office Four, a conversion of the red-brick former Matthews International property on Penn Avenue.