Homewood, Larimer among URA priorities

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If you ask Urban Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Rob Stephany what the agency’s priorities are for 2012, he points to Homewood and Larimer, and returning equity to a largely Black population that’s seen it steadily eroded for decades.

“We have two very important tax credit applications pending related to the Larimer plan and a senior housing project in Homewood,” he said. “What I love about the Larimer Plan is it addresses the market issues they have. I think the Larimer Consensus Group is working at removing the rustbelt scab better than anyone I’ve seen nationally. And it’s their plan, we’re just trying to help.”

The Larimer Plan, a comprehensive blueprint for the entire neighborhood, would begin with housing development along East Liberty Boulevard to reconnect the community with East Liberty and its business development.

The Homewood development, which involves partnerships with Hosanna Industries and the Home Depot Foundation, calls for 44 units of new senior housing above retail space along Race Street and on both sides of the East Busway. The idea is to create a transportation-related focal point that brings both Homewood and North Point Breeze together. Developer Keith B. Keys has already been selected to manage the project.

“Seniors provide stability to neighborhoods, and there ought to be a place where people from both neighborhoods can come to drop off their laundry or grab a coffee,” said Stephany. “And any time we can make local convenience marketing part of a project, we will.”

Stephany said he also wants to expand on the successful single housing development work done by Rev. Samuel Ware and Building United, which has already built and sold 10 new houses in Homewood, along Susquehanna Street.

“He’s secured state funding for 10 more. I want to do 40,” said Stephany.

On the economic development front, Stephany said Pittsburgh is emerging from its rustbelt status faster than any other city. He pointed to the expansion of Point Park University and the Market Square Redevelopment as examples of that. He also noted that Macy’s downsizing its footprint in the old Kaufmann’s building is a positive sign.

“They want to be Downtown, it’s key for them. But they know they have to be smaller and fleeter in a retail market that’s seeing big changes due to the Internet,” he said. “If we’d seen that strategy from Saks, they might still be here.”

But again, Stephany said last year’s opening of a new grocery in Beechview and the coming Hill District SHOP ‘n SAVE as highlights, and added that several Downtown restaurants had banner years. Looking forward, to 2012 and beyond, there are two major projects unfolding.

The first involves reclaiming 55 acres of surface parking in the strip district, extending from the David L. Lawrence Convention Center to 21st Street for residential and retail development. The second is the development of the 28-acre Civic Arena site in the lower Hill District. Design work for that site’s infrastructure is just getting underway, said Stephany.

And all of this, he said, is taking place in a funding environment that has changed significantly.

“State and federal funds have all been downsized. In the last five years, we’ve seen a 56 percent reduction in community development funding,” he said. “To some extent that is being offset by grants and to a larger extent the shift to tax credit financing. But the Highland building project in East Liberty is very close starting, we have $4 million for restoring eight historic buildings Downtown, $15 million for the Strip District, and we’re hoping to move forward with the $35 million in tax credits. We’ll know about the application in March.

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