When the Heinz Endowments began looking at neighborhoods to enhance with its new community development initiative, Hazelwood got its attention.
It had great need but many attributes, said Robert Vagt, the endowments' president.
For several years, the organization has supported programs at the Keystone Church's Center of Life -- a nonprofit that promotes youth development through music, education and athletics -- at less than $100,000. A much larger gift of $1.35 million over the next three years has jump-started the endowments' new place-based focus.
The three-year award, which was announced recently, is part of a $2.35 million package of grants the foundation's board approved last month to endow Hazelwood.
"Our commitment is generational, and we are taking the first steps now," Mr. Vagt said. "They have individuals and groups who are working hard and believe in the possibility of positive change.
"They actually believe it. These are things that have legs and are making demonstrable progress. I wish I had a better word than exciting. And besides human resources, [the neighborhood] has physical resources: It's on the river and has wonderful buildings, lots of them."
This new tack -- to heavily infuse one neighborhood through already strong organizations -- has models in other cities, he said.
"We have tried all sorts of things under the rubric of community development," which traditionally is real-estate heavy, he said. "The obvious inadequacy is that physical reconstruction alone doesn't mend the social fabric."
The $2.35 million in grants include $400,000 to Rebuilding Together to work with Center of Life and local contractors to repair houses for needful home owners and rehab vacant homes for resale; $25,000 to help the Allegheny Council to Improve Our Neighborhoods Housing Inc. get site control and begin predevelopment planning for reuse of the former Hazelwood Presbyterian Church property; and $35,000 for an anti-bullying project at Miflin Pre K-6 in Lincoln Place, which is a feeder school for Hazelwood.
The endowments' board decided two years ago to select two neighborhoods and, without diluting its support to other organizations in the Pittsburgh area, "to focus in this new way," Mr. Vagt said.
The second neighborhood has yet to be selected.
Hazelwood is a neighborhood that, old-timers recall, once had everything. This was true throughout the city in the first half of the 20th century. But like the city as a whole, Hazelwood lost so many people and economic engines that by the 1990s it gave off a ghostly sense of what used to be when you drove through.
"And if you don't feel it when you drive through, you can talk to Tim Smith or dozens of other folks about it," Mr. Vagt said.
The Rev. Tim Smith founded Center of Life because so many youth who knew his musician sons were coming around when the Smiths were jamming in their basement.
"They all said, 'We need jobs,' " he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last summer. Center of Life became a place where youth could put musicianship and other artistic skills to work, literally, as enterprises.
Their jazz groups and KRUNK Movement -- rap, hip hop and dance collaborations -- perform throughout the region. One of the jazz bands won a first place award at this year's Next Generation Jazz Festival, which is organized by the Monterey Jazz Festival in California.
Mr. Smith has a broad reach, having already created relationships with schools, universities and community organizations, Mr. Vagt said, "but there are limitations to what he can do, primarily because of funding.
"With leadership like his, this [grant] can encourage other folks, not just money partners, but cultural organizations and businesses."
Another plus for Hazelwood is its proximity to the South Side, Oakland and Squirrel Hill.
"It has been demonstrated nationwide that effective community development goes on in places which are proximate to economic and social strengths," Mr. Vagt said.
It also helps when grass-roots efforts gain momentum, he said, citing the Larimer Consensus Group, whose work on a village green and selective housing development has been guided by a strong neighborhood master plan. "I don't think Walnut Capital would be as hot [on Larimer] if it wasn't for that grassroots work."
Walnut Capital developed Bakery Square, which is in Larimer.
Mr. Vagt said the endowments' continuing commitment to Hazelwood is based on the direction developed by a representative roundtable group. The group is made up of churches, small businesses and long-time residents.
"We meet monthly," city Councilman Corey O'Connor said. "We talk about projects and ideas. It's great that we have a partner who listens."
The foundation is one of several that formed Almono LLC to buy the old LTV site for $10 million in 2002. Development of the site with residential and commercial components is proposed to lace into the rest of the neighborhood with an enhanced street grid.
Having the Heinz Endowments investing in other parts of the neighborhood as well "gives Hazelwood great credibility," Mr. O'Connor said. "I think that really hit home with residents. This neighborhood is going to be on the move soon."
Diana Nelson Jones: email@example.com or 412-263-1626.