By Jamie Wiggan
Pittsburgh’s westside neighborhoods may be finally getting their due after missing out on repeated waves of investment that have swept along a host of other city communities in recent years.
Kick-starting a project expected to extend for years or even decades, the city has allocated $1 million of its American Rescue Plan funding as seed money for an effort to revive the Chartiers Avenue business district in collaboration with the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).
“It’s a significant investment in the community, especially in terms of economic development, and especially on our side of town, that we haven’t seen for a very long time,” said Theresa Kail-Smith, city council president.
The efforts to revitalize Chartiers Avenue are part of the Avenues of Hope program, a broader URA initiative that’s overseeing parallel projects across a number of city neighborhoods, with a particular emphasis on supporting Black and minority business owners.
“It’s an effort to support historically under-resourced and historically Black areas,” said Aster Teclay, URA business strategy officer. “The goal is to support main street business corridors.”
The URA is looking to leverage the initial seed money to build “a sustainable model to last the program,” Aster added.
Zig-zagging for nearly three miles across the four city neighborhoods of Elliot, Sheraden,
Chartiers and Windgap, the challenge of injecting new life into Chartiers Avenue will require lining up several distinct pieces, according to URA officials.
“Of all of our seven corridors [Chartiers Avenue] is the most geographically diverse and it’s the longest," said Josette Fitzgibbons, URA Business Program Officer and an Elliot resident. “...That creates some challenges because it involves several neighborhoods and several business nodes.”
As a first step, the URA is looking to host an event in Sheraden where community members, business owners and other stakeholders can voice thoughts on what their community needs. A date hasn’t yet been finalized, but organizers are currently shooting for a weekend in early November.
Fitzgibbons and Teclay said they’re hoping to hear about particular places, buildings or stretches of the avenue that the initial phase of the project can be structured around.
“Our approach to each of the Avenues of Hope will be tailored to that community,” Fitzgibbons said. “Just like our neighbors have unique personalities, our business corridors do as well.”
Irrespective of neighborhood-specific nuances, the URA has two flagship programs for channeling funds into communities.
One focuses on construction, extending lines of credit to qualifying contractors for projects within the designated communities, while another focuses on the needs of business owners and developers by offering financing options for any of the costs incurred during site acquisition, construction and development processes.
Around these lending programs, the URA also offers educational resources and technical assistance for first-time entrepreneurs, and the organization is also tapped into a network of other service providers who can bridge the gaps that might otherwise prevent a resident from becoming a business owner, Aster said.
Various city agencies, such as the planning and infrastructure departments, will also weigh in with ideas and expertise.
“We want to make sure these dollars flow throughout the community,” Aster said. “We’re looking at workforce in a holistic way.”