The National Main Street Conference, Going West Mobile Workshop was lead by Josette Fitzgibbons, Neighborhood Business District Manager of URA (Urban Redevelopment Authority) a giant revolving loan funded by Federal, Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh tax sources to support revitalization of many main streets when banks can’t fill in the gap.
With just 6K people in 1 mile radius this tiny main street experienced a sharp decline when the railroad stopped coming through. Since the 1980’s it has become the community of last resort with numerous challenges. The average home can be bought for under $50,000 with 65% transient renters.
With generational poverty, 80% are single parents and 100% of the school kids qualify for free lunch.
Josette had a couple of developers along the walking tour who pointed out buildings poised for revitalization along Chartiers Avenue. One of the turn-around tours started at a 2 story building with a classic Corinthian column façade. Sadly, the building is used as a vertical land fill of outdated computers. Attempting to sidestep an incapable building owner, developers worked with lawyers to form a conservatorship, a judge appointed guardian over an impaired building owner.
Next, the group stepped inside historic Roxian Theatre building along the 1/5 of a mile long Main Street. The original plans to renovate came in way over budget so the project stalled. The inside is a mess with dropped down ceilings covering historic filigree and exposed metal air handler ducts along the side walls.
Funding sources are in place for the Roxian, but there are operating challenges such as how to create affordable attractions in a hard scrabble neighborhood.
West End Village:
Josette’s hometown and 2 businesses that brought manufacturing to a stagnant Main Street.
The Miller Process Coating Company was our first stop.
West End is attractive to the working class who want peace and quiet. It is only 15 minutes away from downtown Pittsburgh and the building prices are affordable. One entrepreneur bought a 2 story historic brick building on the gateway of Main Street and completed a full loan revitalization. West End is in close proximity to the confluence of the Ohio, Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers. Not only did he have to adhere to the codes of the City but the building owner encountered major flooding problems on the first floor.
The building owner hesitated when asked if he would tackle a project like this again. The result is an attractive working environment to design and build specialty machines and robotics. The tour continued to James Gallery a business wearing different hats to thrive.
The property owner sat on 2 lots for several years before opening up the James Gallery in a historic 2 story brick building. The front of the building is open structure for the art gallery. The owner added ceiling hung flexible lighting and finished out the brick walls in drywall to accentuate the art pieces.
It helps to have the commercial kitchen and restrooms in the middle of the space to make it easy to rent out for functions. A narrow slice of space behind the art gallery serves as custom frame shop.
The adjoining lot has been transformed into an outdoor overflow for gallery rentals complete with trees, metal sculpture and outdoor furniture.
This main street has overcome challenges with severe flooding in 2004 and a pedestrian street close off in the 1960’s. This Main Street has a lot going for it in the short distance of 1200 lineal feet! Main Street extends further but looses the small continuous scale when the height of the top of buildings is broken with huge parking lot gaps and buildings set back from the sidewalk.
A historian walked with us detailing how Carnegie has always been a borough for tight knit ethnic groups. The were unique place to eat like Riley’s Pour House, Cafe Delhi and one-of-a-kind favorites like Bacn.
Many of the historic buildings have been revitalized with dance studios, one single story building tucked in the middle of Main Street is The Flying Squirrel that is a nostalgic emporium where you can buy ice cream, candy and nostalgic toys like a 1970’s Chatter Telephone with the rolling eyeballs!
The Flying Squirrel has a great Facebook thread with updates on quirky happenings like Dr. Who showings and Harry Potter night. The signature event is the Carnegie Crawl every 2nd Friday of the month. Each crawl is different local businesses have special deals and refreshments and sometimes there is music in the streets.
Business owners who participate place a snail logo in their storefront window.