Practicality has its place, but it’s unlikely to win the prize in Mount Washington’s quest for designs to spark interest in the Boggs and Bailey commercial corridor.
What? Boggs-Bailey has a commercial corridor?
Yeah, that’s the issue: Seven commercial properties that line Boggs Avenue just before it becomes Bailey are all vacant, with a couple of vacant lots among them, and no potential redeveloper has done anything more than kick the tires, said Laura Guralnick, the neighborhood’s Community Development Corporation’s co-interim executive director.
The well-traveled portion of eastern Mount Washington is a target of the nonprofit’s housing and real estate plan. The CDC has $2,000 to reward the winning design in a competition to bring some attention to the blighted conditions.
The deadline is June 10, and the purse comes from the Pittsburgh Urban Leadership Service Experience, or PULSE, and Northwood Realty.
Neil Grbach is the PULSE fellow whose service with the CDC included coming up with the idea, and he is the point person for all design applicants, who can be design students or design professionals.
“We want something out of the box,” he said.
“We’d love to see some fantastic ideas,” Ms. Guralnick said.
The instructions to applicants include this provision: “Please do not worry about feasibility, affordability or zoning issues.”
The point is to get some serious creativity, even playfulness, to present to a larger audience, to start the wheels spinning on possibilities for the nearly 5-acre site.
All the designs will be shown during the Next Three Days pop-up event in the neighborhood on June 17-19. Next Three Days is a festival the city funds to bring fresh eyes to select neighborhoods that most people don’t know. Mount Washington is sharing the event with Allentown, whose Warrington Avenue retail corridor is connected to Mount Washington via Beltzhoover Avenue, which connects to Bailey.
It might seem odd to include Mount Washington in the cohort of little-known neighborhoods, but its millions of visitors rarely see much beyond the stunning views on Grandview Avenue and the retail on Shiloh Street, which is just four blocks long.
The rest of the neighborhood is a hodgepodge of wealthy, middle class, working class and poor, with dots of blight. Those dots are hard to redevelop because the cost-per-square-footage ratios of small spaces are high. The CDC fills that gap when it can cobble together enough to pick up a house here and there at treasurer’s sale and put it back together at cost or change.
The Boggs-Bailey site, which includes gently sloping and overgrown land, offers some scale for a profit-minded investor.
“We’ve pitched the area to a number of developers,” Ms. Guralnick said. “They can all see the value in its proximity to amenities, but it either hasn’t penciled out or there are too many other opportunities out there.”
Five property owners besides the CDC, which owns one vacant lot, are part of the conversation about packaging the site, said Greg Panza, an agent for Northwood Realty Services who was on staff at the CDC from 2005 to 2012.
“Our goal includes business and residential,” Ms. Guralnick said. “Revitalizing the Boggs-Bailey corridor was one of the recommendations of our 10-year plan for real estate strategy. This is an underserved part of the neighborhood,” but it is a 10-minute walk from the Mon Incline and a four-minute walk to Grandview Park.
“We want the success of Shiloh Street to draw up and around this corner. It is the midpoint between our business district and East Warrington [in Allentown], which is up and coming.”
CDCs all over the city see the importance of pulling success around corners, to make connections, even to blur neighborhood lines. Boggs-Bailey is a critical link for Mount Washington and for Allentown to both be stronger.
“The competition site is a strategic piece of property,” Mr. Grbach said, “maybe even one of the most strategic pieces of property Mount Washington has seen on the market in the last 10 years.”
The Mount Washington CDC is accepting designs from individuals or teams by mail or in person at 301 Shiloh St., Pittsburgh 15211. For more information, contact Neil@mwcdc.org or 412-481-3220.
Diana Nelson Jones: email@example.com or 412-263-1626.