Ground broken for East Liberty housing, retail building
April 30, 2009 4:15 PM
Diana Nelson Jones/Post-Gazette
Alethea Sims at the groundbreaking for new housing at Penn Circle.
By Diana Nelson Jones Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The turnout was unusually large for a ground-breaking, but it was more than a ground-breaking for about 70 people this morning at Penn Avenue and Beatty Street. After an arduous process, construction has begun on the site of the former East Mall in East Liberty.
The new development, to be called East Liberty Place North, will be a 75,000-square foot, mixed-use housing and retail entity estimated to cost about $13 million and be LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] certified. It will include 54 apartments, 38 of them reserved for low-income households. Residents of East Mall, which straddled Penn Avenue at that intersection and was razed in 2005, have first priority to the apartments. The sidewalk level will accommodate six retail businesses.
"Probably only a thousand people had to work very hard to make this happen," said Rob Stephany, executive director of the Urban Redevelopment Authority. He and others said the process was emotionally back-breaking largely because of the market and because of efforts to respect all the collaborators' views.
The project was assembled and disassembled repeatedly, said Tamara Dudukovich, director of development for The Community Builders, the non-profit that is developing the site.
Alethea Sims, the leader of an East Mall resident group, said, "It might have been easier if we'd just taken the vouchers [for replacement housing] and faded into the woodwork like in other revitalizing neighborhoods." Instead, her group, CORE [Concerned Residents of East Liberty] took part in every step of the planning, sad Mr. Stephany.
"There were many emotional nights in church basements with Alethea and CORE making sure we understood that this is a place where people live," said Mr. Stephany.
"Today I am really pumped," said Ms. Sims, who has her eye on a top-floor apartment. "Look what we have accomplished. Who would ever have thought that a group of low-income residents would give this much input and be heard. Promises were made, and promises are being kept."
More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.