'Lost triangle' targeted for acute face-lift

Area called important confluence of Hill District and Uptown

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On a map of the Hill District and Uptown, a small triangle wedges itself between orderly rectangles of street grids. Its boundaries are Reed, Dinwiddie and Colwell streets.

Architect Daniel Rothschild calls this piece of the Hill "the lost triangle." Bill Gatti, president of TREK Development Group, says it is "an important confluence of the two neighborhoods."

Before 2011, it was dominated by Reed Roberts, a crime-ridden cluster of oddly angled buildings that resembled stacked trailers. It was razed during TREK's first phase of building 23 townhouses along Dinwiddie. The next year, another 24 were built, and this year, TREK has turned the corner.

Seven townhouses sit wrapped in Tyvek insulation across Heldman Street from the new Shop 'n Save construction site, and 11 more are being hammered into being on Reed, where the former Miller School is being renovated into eight loft apartments.

In four phases, with sketches of a future beyond, TREK, working with Mistick Construction and the Rothschild Doyno Collaborative, proposes to transform the triangle into a mix of housing from low-income affordable to a market-rate cluster of modern design that "will set the table for the Reed Roberts site," Mr. Gatti said.

That site is a 3-acre bluff with views of Downtown. Its construction is at least two years away, Mr. Gatti said, adding, "We'll go through a community planning process when the time comes."

Cheryl Hall-Russell, CEO of the Hill House Association, said the grocery, which is set to open in September, and its adjacent retail shops are "an economic accelerator for investment."

Mixed-income housing is the healthiest formula, she said, "but one of our concerns is that we continue to have safe, affordable housing so people who are here can stay and those who are not yet middle-income can move into that."

The Hill District Consensus Group and Hill Community Development Corp. are "at the table of every development discussion to ensure that," she said.

A funding gap of $3.86 million almost jeopardized the grocery's progress. Construction began late last year after the Hill House Association and its economic development corporation closed the gap with $1.9 million in New Market tax credits; a $400,000 grant from the Heinz Endowments; a $788,673 federal grant; a $300,000 grant from McAuley Ministries; and a $115,000 grant and $250,000 loan from a Hill District fund set up to distribute revenues from the Rivers Casino.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority and the Penguins had previously given $1 million each. The Penguins' chunk was part of a community benefits agreement. Store operator Jeff Ross is bringing $1 million in equipment and inventory.

Ms. Hall-Russell's office sits across Centre from the grocery construction site. "I come in every morning and stand at my window and look," she said. "It keeps me focused on why the fight was well worth it."

TREK's four phases represent a $35 million investment, $6.1 million of which is public funding, mostly Urban Redevelopment Authority loans. Phase four will complete TREK's construction on Dinwiddie and include part of Wick Street, which runs into it.

Most of the properties in all four phases were publicly owned "and were either torn down or falling down," Mr. Gatti said. Instead of demolishing everything and starting from scratch, he said, "we tried to put forth a more historically sensitive plan to rehab what we could."

On Dinwiddie, several stone facades were saved in creating new rows of townhouses to re-establish density.

Yarone Zober, the URA board chairman and chief of staff to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, said the Hill now has broader socioeconomic appeal. "On Dinwiddie, there are income-restricted [low-income] units and ones that aren't and you can't tell the difference. That's the whole idea.

"The market now is such that folks across socioeconomic boundaries want to live in the Hill," he said, citing the redevelopment of Allequippa Terrace into Oak Hill -- a mixed-income community near the University of Pittsburgh's sports complex. Add the future redevelopment of the former Addison Terrace public housing, the work TREK is doing and the 28 acres of the former Civic Arena, he said, "and you're seeing a completely different Hill and a future that's never been as bright."


Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at www.post-gazette.com/citywalk.


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