Wilkinsburg seeks 'Main Street' designation once again

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In 2009, the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corp. sought a Main Street designation from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, but the office made no awards to any organization at the time.

Five years later, Wilkinsburg is trying again. 

“By being designated a Main Street community, you are moved up for priority in other state grant funding opportunities,” said Tracey Evans, executive director of the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corp. “It’s a competitive process, so communities that are designated have priority when [grant makers are] deciding who to fund.”

The WCDC will seek public comment on its application for the Main Street Program and will ask borough council for its support at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday in the second-floor council chambers. 

Ms. Evans said funding from Pennsylvania’s Neighborhood Partnership Program enabled the WCDC to surpass the goals of the five-year plan it developed in 2009. The group marketed Wilkinsburg’s business district and made streetscape improvements, such as installing trash cans, planting trees and fixing lampposts. It also sold 25 vacant business-district properties. 

“Right now, we've been in an early phase of bringing in new owners and trying to fill vacant storefronts, and that’s been very successful,” Ms. Evans said. “We feel that there is a good sense of growth through the East End.”

The WCDC is working on several large projects, which include demolishing the vacant Penn-Lincoln Hotel and renovating the Pennsylvania Railroad Station-Wilkinsburg, Ms. Evans said. 

“Things that have been on hold, just felt like they weren't going to get done, are now moving forward,” she said.

In March 2014, the organization hired Chuck Alcorn as a full-time economic development program coordinator to organize business-district revitalization efforts. The WCDC will support Mr. Alcorn’s position with funding from the Neighborhood Partnership Program. 

Brandon Boan, co-owner of the letterpress print shop Tip Type, said he thought a Main Street designation in Wilkinsburg would draw customers to his business.

“As more and more people move to the neighborhood, I think that’s a big draw for us because we do a lot of work with local artists,” he said. “The more and more we can work with other artists, other creatives and business owners, the better we feel like we would be doing and the community as a whole.”

A Main Street designation likely would increase knowledge of the borough’s resources, Mr. Boan said.

“There’s an intense amount of traffic cutting through Wilkinsburg every morning, and it’s always surprising to me how many people don’t stop or are kind of unaware of the things that are going on in Wilkinsburg,” Mr. Boan said. “I think it would be really wonderful to help the business district out in order to promote what’s available and to better share with Pittsburgh as a whole.”

Ms. Evans echoed Mr. Boan’s support of Wilkinsburg’s commerce. 

“There’s more here than people realize,” she said. “That will be one of our goals this year, is to really get out interesting stories and share with people how much is really here in terms of businesses.”

Marisa Iati: miati@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1891 or on Twitter @marisa_iati.


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