Penn Avenue in Wilkinsburg, PA

Since its founding in 2008, The Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation has followed what’s known as the “main street” approach as the basis of its efforts and organization. The goal? Achieving a Main Street Designation for a stretch of Penn Avenue from the Pennsylvania Department of Economic and Community Development’s Main Street Program.

“If you’re designated, you have an ability to get higher grants,” says WCDC Executive Director Tracey Evans. “It will give us access to enterprise zone credits for business, and it really opens up a lot of resources.”

After applying in 2009 only to have the state suspend the process across the board, Wilkinsburg is in the process of applying for the designation again, and its prospects have never looked better. For the first time in over five decades, Wilkinsburg’s population has grown, residential real estate sales are up and workforce numbers have increased.

“To get a designation, you have to show the state a long checklist, that you have a sustainable organization, that you have community support, that you have a pedestrian-friendly, walkable business district,” Evans says, adding that the WCDC is currently working on a community traffic study and an engineering study of the railroad trestle which crosses over Penn Avenue, which effectively serves as a gateway to Wilkinsburg.

Seven areas in the City of Pittsburgh currently have Main Street designations: Bloomfield, East Carson Street on the South Side, Friendship, Lawrenceville, Mt. Washington, the North Side and the Strip District.

Landmarks Development Corporation restoring old housing, building new units
The Falconhurst Neighborhood Restoration development program is a $10.5 million restoration project in Wilkinsburg’s National Register-listed Hamnet Place neighborhood. Last week, it was awarded low-income housing tax credits by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, which will enable Landmarks Development Corporation, the construction subsidiary of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, to rehabilitate the space into a residential complex which will combine historic restoration and new construction.

Between a condominium complex at Rebecca Avenue and Wood Street, two-and-three-unit apartment buildings and two new townhomes, LCD will construct a total of 33 new housing units. It’s the latest project from the PHLF, which has already completed the Crescent and Wilson House Apartment buildings, seven single-family homes, an educational facility and the repurposing of two vacant lots into community gardens and green space.

Penn-Lincoln Hotel being demolished
The Penn-Lincoln Hotel, one of Wilkinsburg’s most notable landmarks since its construction in 1927, won’t be a part of the borough’s revival. It is currently under demolition.

“Efforts were made to try and preserve the building, but there wasn’t a way we could find to reuse it,” Evans says, adding that it will give way to new construction. “There are about 40 other vacant buildings in the district we’re still trying to find owners for. Repurposing is a big part of our work.”

Matthew Wein

Matthew Wein is a local writer, editor, blogger, storyteller and proud native Pittsburgher. Once described as "a man of things," he covers city design, spirits and craft beer for NEXT, where he keeps all of the editorial meetings light-hearted and interesting. His interests include sorting books, looking at old things and candles which smell like old-growth pine forests.