Renovations planned for McKees Rocks business district

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Some big changes are in store for the main thoroughfare in McKees Rocks.

Environmental Planning & Design LLC is working on the makeover of Chartiers Avenue with the McKees Rocks Community Development Corporation, which is forging ahead with plans to revitalize the borough's business district.

Andrew Schwartz of Environmental Planning presented detailed plans to about 50 borough officials and residents in a public meeting Jan. 22 in the municipal building.

Key elements of the proposal call for restoring two-way traffic to a two-block section of Chartiers, sprucing up the railroad trestle that crosses over the street at Island Avenue, improving street lighting, marking crosswalks and updating business facades.

Perhaps the most significant part of the plan is the traffic pattern change. Motorists heading east on Chartiers toward West Carson Street currently are forced to turn onto Furnace Street, bypass the business district and re-enter Chartiers next to the Eat’n Park.

Under the proposal, traffic would instead continue east on Chartiers.

Mr. Schwartz said the plans also call for improvements to Furnace. The street width is 85 feet, which is the equivalent of four lanes of traffic, which pedestrians must cross to enter businesses, he said.

“This creates a safety problem for pedestrians who have to cross the street in the face of oncoming traffic headed to downtown Pittsburgh,” he said.

The plan calls for moving parking closer to the businesses and shifting the traffic lanes closer to Chartiers Creek, where a municipal parking lot is located.

“This will create an opportunity to establish a green space along the creek with a creekside park,” Mr. Schwartz said.

The plan also addresses the street lighting.

“High-pressure sodium street lighting is used on Chartiers. It is a yellow light that is hard on the eyes,” Mr. Schwartz said. The plan calls for switching to metal-halide lamps, which, like halogen lamps, are brighter than traditional lighting.

He said that many of the businesses that close at 5 p.m. turn off their lights, which he said makes the street appear barren.

“Even though many of the buildings are occupied, they look vacant and are perceived as vacant,” he said.

Additional lighting also is recommended for the area of Chartiers beneath the railroad trestle. A sign welcoming visitors to McKees Rocks is proposed for the trestle.

The borough has already received a $117,000 grant from the state Department of Transportation for new traffic signals on Chartiers.

About 16,000 cars use Chartiers on an average day, so the plan calls for leveraging that traffic count to help establish new businesses. He cited the success of the Grimes Interiors store as an opportunity for businesses to locate in McKees Rocks that sell merchandise such as carpeting.

Mr. Schwartz said McKees Rocks has a fairly large market area with potential customers from Kennedy, Bellevue and Ben Avon.

Flower boxes maintained by business owners, facade grants to help businesses improve the appearance of their buildings and better signs can help change the image of the business district, he said.

The plan envisions building on the creative arts with the Father Ryan Arts Center on Chartiers Avenue and refurbishing the Roxian Theater across the street from the arts center as a performing arts venue.

One resident, who is a pet owner, suggested the plan include a dog park.

“That’s definitely an amenity we want to explore," said Taris Vrcek, executive director of the McKees Rocks Community Development Corporation, who has spearheaded the revitalization plan.

Mr. Vrcek has secured funding for the plan through the Strengthening Communities Partnership, a program developed by the Allegheny Conference for Community Development.

Through the program, UPMC Health Plan, Duquesne Light and First Niagara Bank have supplied $250,000 annually for past few years to fund the community development corporation’s operation and workforce training efforts.

Three additional corporations have recently joined the partnership; PittOhio Express, TriState Capital, and Dollar, who together will make another $250,000 available over the next six years for revitalization efforts.

The Design Center of Pittsburgh has signed on as the main technical adviser in redesigning the lower Chartiers Avenue business district.

Bob Podurgiel, freelance writer:

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