Walkabout: Brownsville Road could get a boost from dairy district

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It's hard to find vibrant colors in Carrick to match those of the flavored iced teas the Colteryahn Dairy produces.

The accumulation of ugliness along Carrick's retail corridor, Brownsville Road, doesn't represent what's otherwise a pretty solid neighborhood ... except that it does. Blight is what sticks in your mind.

Looking to find what's pretty solid on Brownsville itself and hoping to build on that strength, several advocates homed in on the Colteryahn Dairy in the 1600 block. The city's only remaining dairy, it will be 100 years old in 2017.

Instead of leaving the city when opportunity arose in 1996, the fourth-generation owner invested $5 million in upgrades in Carrick. A decade later, the company made another multi-million investment.

The idea of a "dairy district" was born in talks among members of city council, the Allegheny County executive's office and the staff at Economic Development South. A steering committee formed around an early grant for the project from the city, $50,000 from a fund the Design Center managed.

Economic Development South, a community development hybrid that represents four municipalities and two city neighborhoods, including Carrick, received the money to pay for a feasibility study of a tourism initiative using the dairy as an anchor.

Plans for the dairy district go public tonight at a meeting at 6:30 at the Church of the Redeemer, 1628 Brownsville Road. After public input and possible revisions, the committee will build a budget and begin fund-raising, said Terry Oden, Desmone Architect's project head.

The district would be in the 1600 block, where the dairy owns four buildings, including its plant. Ten parcels are in play, and Economic Development South has participation from all the owners, said Stephanie Miller, the nonprofit's manager of projects. Several investors are lined up "and we're open to other outreach as well."

"Once we get into this, we can figure out how far it will go," she said. "There's a lot of vacant retail farther up the street."

Ideas include a farmers market, dairy-oriented businesses such as an ice cream parlor and complementary manufacturing businesses such as a chocolatier. Under the plan, Colteryahn would animate its facade and maybe show production to the public.

The dairy district would be identified by accent colors on facade trims, "vibrant colors inspired by the ice tea Colteryahn makes -- raspberry cooler, green tea lemonade, etc.," Mr. Oden said.

Chris Koch, director of programs for the Design Center, said the dairy district is a place-making effort to stop some of the just-passing-through traffic.

"Rebuilding this area will be a signal that people are investing," she said. "Four or five property owners want to rehab their buildings and have agreed to be part of the design process."

Rob Rubinstein, the URA's acting executive director, said Colteryahn's willingness to be part of the grand scheme makes it a good bet.

"They are a good business, a known business," he said. "And we think the idea of creating a sense of place is important to neighborhood building," giving people a reason to "park the car and get a sense of discovery."

Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak said a tour of the dairy and a discussion with Carl Colteryahn III provided an obvious idea.

"Brownsville Road is long and unwieldy, which makes it difficult to know how to invest," she said. "We had been talking with Economic Development South about the idea of segmenting Brownsville into manageable pieces, around businesses.

"I was thinking about how in New York City you have the meat-packing district that's really hip," she said. "So why not make this a district around the dairy?"

Mr. Colteryahn said the company's investments have allowed it "to do a lot more with the same number of people. Pittsburgh is a wonderful place to do business out of."

He said the steering committee, of which he is a part, has been looking "for almost a year now at what's it going to look like and how it's going to go. A lot of ideas have been put on the table and a lot of time spent seeing that the synergies are complementary."

"This whole issue of 'What do we do about Brownsville Road?' has been on my mind since I got into office," Ms. Rudiak said. "It is frustrating because there are gorgeous large homes nearby but a lot of folks don't realize it. Brownsville Road is the living room of the community, where everybody comes together. We really need to refurbish it."

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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