June 19, 2012
Pittsburgh Business Times
The city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority has landed a key $15 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation that will jump-start the remaining phases of the Eastside development, which is helping to revitalize the urban border between East Liberty and Shadyside.
Granted through the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER IV, program, the $15 million is to be dedicated to the development of the new East Liberty Transit Center. The project is being pursued in partnership with the Port Authority of Allegheny County and the Mosites Co., along with the URA.
The grant will help to leverage city and state fund that will total $34 million dollars for the major infrastructure investment to bring a new, multi-modal transit center that will serve nearly 1,000 daily bus trips, add new pedestrian and bike amenities and help to spur other nearby transit-oriented development.
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl expects the new funding and the project it will bring will help to continue the revitalization throughout the core of East Liberty.
“This project will connect more people with the $440 million of public and private investment occurring in this growing neighborhood and provide the multi-modal connections that are needed to keep pace with the transformation of East Liberty,” Mayor Ravenstahl said. “These transit improvements are exactly the sort of job-creating transportation infrastructure investments that President Obama talked about in his State of the Union address and this TIGER IV award will help create the centerpiece of the 10 ½ acre privately-funded EastSide III redevelopment, bringing more jobs and residents to the area.”
The plan is to reconfigure a former bus turn-around on Penn Avenue along with a neighboring property that extends to Highland Avenue into a new mixed-use transit center. The new grant is expected to help spur a comprehensive array of changes, improvements and redesigns for a 14-acre parcel that include moving the established transit station, creating a new pedestrian bridge and walkway to the site, and building new parking for cars and bikes. Through a complete reorientation, Mosites plans to develop new commercial property on newly open sites that front onto Penn and Highland avenues.
Grateful for the funding, Steve Mosites, principal of the development firm that brought Whole Foods and Target to East Liberty in earlier phases of the Eastside plan, said the federal funding will activate his company’s next phases of development.
“We’ve currently been running three different options. This will help us zero in on the right program for this site,” said Mosites, of his firm’s consideration of a mix of a hotel, retail, office and residential space for its property. “This TIGER grant is going to expedite all that and make it a reality.”
The goal is to bring new commercial life to the property, which is bookended by Whole Foods on one end and Target on the other. But it’s also to provide a more effective transit plaza for the Port Authority, noted Mark Minnerly, the director of real estate for Mosites, given the area is a key hub for public transportation in the city, with more than 800 buses passing through the site daily.
“The vision is to have a transit station that feels like it’s the center of the neighborhood, not isolated and outside it like it does now,” Minnerly said.
The new grant came with broad political support from a Pennsylvania delegation that includes senators Bob Casey, Democrat, and Pat Toomey, Republican, as well as long-time congressman Mike Doyle, Democrat, and a host of local and state politicians that include state senators Jay Costa and Jim Ferlo, as well as city councilman Ricky Burgess, whose district includes much of East Liberty.
Maelene Myers, Executive Director of East Liberty Development Inc., described the grant as “an exciting turning point for East Liberty.”
She added: “Integrating the future of transit into the heart of our district will only accelerate and strengthen the change that is underway.”
According to the announcement by the mayor’s office, the city has preliminary environmental and historic review approvals for the transit center and hopes to begin development as soon as possible, with project hearings and public hearings on the plan to be scheduled.
Councilman Bill Peduto, in whose district most of the project is expected to take place, described the project as a lynch pin for the neighborhood’s redevelopment.
He sees the way that Mosites and ELDI have pursued the project as comparable to when they first developed Whole Foods ten years ago.
“A lot of the credit really belongs with team Mosites. They’re the ones that have been pushing this and carrying the ball,” he said.